Local clinic helps students with diabetes gain independence

HOUSTON – As kids are gearing up to go to college, those with chronic illnesses, like diabetes, have a whole new world to conquer.

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital offer a diabetes program aimed at this age group.

It's to help make a smooth transition for these students as they go out on their own and also have to manage the chronic illness alone for the first time.

The program is for patients 17 to 26 years old with diabetes. They meet with a physician and diabetes educator for the first time without parents to make sure they’re ready to go off on their own.

“The last year in high school, before you go off to college, there's some things you need to do,” said Dr. Siripoom Mckay from Baylor’s Young Adult Diabetes Program.

Mckay said the clinic is for type 1 and type 2, but since many type 1 patients were diagnosed as young as 4, diabetes education has probably always been directed to mom and dad. She said this location is where they can fill the gap between what the student knows and doesn't know.

“It includes medical things like… navigating the healthcare system. Do you know what your insurance is? Do you know how to read your insurance card? Are you carrying it? Have you ever refilled prescription on your own? Do you know the steps to refill it, could you make an appointment on your own?” Mckay listed topics to be addressed at the clinic.

In addition, questions about sex, pregnancy, alcohol that they may be hesitant to ask will be addressed head-on because these things could lead diabetic patients to a dangerous situation.

“Alcohol, depending on the type of alcohol, sometimes will initially raise blood glucose, but the delayed effect is often low blood sugar. Now, the symptoms of low blood sugar, a little bit of slurred speech, not thinking quite right,” Mckay explained how a diabetic emergency of low blood sugar could be dismissed since it mimics signs of intoxication.

Mckay encourages patients to eat something before drinking, and have a friend they trust to look for signs. She also said during these visits is when they'll discuss contraception with young females.

Since pregnancy with diabetes has a risk of birth defects that happen within the first trimester, without proper precautions, a woman with diabetes may get pregnant and not know until after birth defects have happened, according to Mckay.

She said focus groups with young diabetic adults about what doctors did not prepare them for, helped to form this program for future generations to be better prepared.