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[IP] Destructive disease: Boca boy battles to stay one step ahead ofdiabetes
Here's an article from our local paper:
Unfortunately it didn't appear on line. I made an attempt to type it out.
Boca Raton News
Tuesday, November 23, 1999
Boca boy battles to stay one step ahead of diabetes
By Kate McClare
Zachary Ullman was just a baby when he was diagnosed with diabetes. At 15
months, he was too young to understand why his mother kept hurting him with
"I had to hold him down under the table (for his insulin shots)," recalls his
mother Ellen Ullman. "He'd run away."
Zachary is 12 now, and long ago stopped resisting the insulin shots that keep
him alive. He manages his illness himself, checking his own blood-sugar
levels and adjusting his insulin dosage as he needs. For him and his parents
and younger sister, who live in west Boca Raton, management of diabetes has
become a seamless part of the day's routine.
For his parents, especially his mother, part of the routine is the search for
a cure for the illness suffered by about 18 million people. They have
accepted the chores of the disease, but they have not accepted the disease
Ellen and Jeffry Ullman work closely with the University of Miami's Diabetes
Research Institute, to educate people about diabetes and support the
institute's efforts to find a cure. Ellen spends much of her day on the
Internet, maintaining a Web site devoted to informing and uniting families of
children with diabetes.
The message she most wants heard is that diabetes is a life-threatening
illness, not an inconvenience that can be overcome by taking insulin and
avoiding sweets. According to the Diabetes Research Institute, it is the
leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20-74. It can lead to many other
life-threatening complications, including kidney failure and heart disease.
Insulin does not stop the disease's steady attack on the body's organs.
"I'm trying to spread the word that diabetes is a destructive disease," Ellen
says. "It's destroying my son's body, and it can only be cured with funding
(of research projects)."
Diabetes comes in two types. Almost 1 million people have Type 1, which used
to be known as juvenile diabetes, because it is most often diagnosed in
children. It develops because the pancreas becomes unable to produce
insulin, the substance that feeds the body's cells by converting food into
glucose. Those who have it must inject themselves with insulin in order to
About 17 million people have Type 2 diabetes, which generally occurs after
age 40. Their bodies do produce insulin, but ineffectively or in
insufficient quantities. Patients can take medication, but often the disease
can be overcome with improved diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors.
Zachary has Type 1 diabetes, and always will until a cure is found.
His days begin and end with blood-sugar checks and insulin injections. One
recent morning, he got up at 4:20 a.m. to use the bathroom, so he had to
check his sugar level.
Management of his illness is a little easier now that he uses an
insulin-injection pump instead of syringes. The pump simulates the workings
of a real pancreas, delivering insulin through a catheter in his side. It's
a steadier, more reliable delivery system than a syringe, and it's easier for
him to use as well.
But Zachary must still check his sugar levels, keep track of how many
carbohydrates he ingests, and then figure out how much additional insulin his
body needs in order to convert the carbohydrates into energy.
"Yes I am very good at math in case you were going to ask the question," he
says in his family's kitchen at about 6:45 a.m., as he bustles about to
prepare his breakfast: a cup of Kix cereal, a cup of Captain Crunch cereal,
one packet of Instant Oatmeal, a cup of milk, and a packet of instant hot
chocolate. He adds the carbohydrates (116.75), divides that by one insulin
unit per 11 grams of carbohydrate, and dials the pump to give him 10.5 units
of insulin. He gets one unit per 20 grams at lunch, and one unit per 24
grams at dinner.
He's been on the pump since second grade. "Before, I had to eat healthy
things all day," he says. Now he can handle more sweets because the pump
makes it easier to work those foods into his diet. He isn't usually tempted
to overindulge in sweets, however; he's been vegetarian since second grade.
The pump, he says, is "easier but a little annoying, because I have to change
the site (of the catheter) a few times a week. The low-battery alarm will go
off in school, and I have to take it off during gym class. No pockets in my
shorts," he explains.
"But I can have a little more freedom in my life," he adds. "In school, if
I had a high sugar and needed a shot, I'd probably have to walk down to the
office." With the pump , he can quietly dial up a little more insulin.
Zachary's illness seems little noticed at Carver Middle School in Delray
Beach, where he attends sixth grade. "He might say he needs to use the
bathroom right away, but mostly he just does what he needs to do and takes
care of it himself," says Zachary's science teacher, Laura Viergutz.
She admits she was apprehensive at the beginning of the year when she first
learned she'd have a child with diabetes in her class, "But his mother had a
conference with all of his teachers, and she told us what to expect and that
he can handle this himself." Ellen Ullman supplies his teachers with pieces
of hard candy, in case his blood sugar drops.
Ellen Ullman has always started Zachary's school year that way, and Zachary
says it hasn't always been easy. "My mom sometimes has to fight with some of
my teachers against rules like going to the clinic for insulin. Like if a
kid is having a diabetic episode, he's going to have time to walk to the
Zachary's parents are hopeful that one day, children won't have to choose
between needles and pumps, because their diabetes will have been cured.
Ellen figures her son has had more than 18,000 blood-sugar tests in his short
lifetime, and she would be happy if he never had another one.
"A lot of organizations are focused on treatment," Jeffry Ullman says, "but
we'd rather cure it, than just treat it for the next 20 years."
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