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[IP] You can't see it in her eyes, but it's marked her

 <A HREF="http://www.ardemgaz.com/today/fea/efithap18.html">Fit Happens: You 
can't see it in her eyes, but it's marked her</A> 
Fit Happens: You can't see it in her eyes, but it's marked her

The first thing you notice when you meet 9-year-old Meredith Duke of 
Russellville will probably be her eyes -- mesmerizing aqua and fringed with 
dark lashes, they'll capture you as you try to determine if one is really a 
bit greener and one bluer. Or it might be her soft voice and calm, mature 
demeanor that stop you.
    Eventually, though, you'll notice a bright blue pagerlike device at her 
waist, and you might wonder why a girl who's almost 10 wears a pager. But 
it's not a pager at all. Meredith wears a MiniMed insulin pump because she 
has juvenile (Type I) diabetes.
    For Meredith, the pump is a convenience, not an inconvenience -- it freed 
her from the insulin shots that she gave herself from the time she was 71/2.
    She is quite matter of fact as she describes her life-changing device. I 
naively ask her if the thin tube that extends from the pump goes into her 
    "Would you like to see where it goes in?" Meredith asks. "If you don't 
want to, it's OK," she's quick to add with a shake of her hand, "but I don't 
mind showing you."
    On this day, the tube goes into the flesh of her backside, just below the 
waist. She explains that she alternates between inserting the tube, which she 
does herself, into her tummy and her bottom because over time the insulin 
builds up under her skin, and she gets a "pooch."
    Meredith says when she first got her insulin pump, "I was real nervous 
because I thought it probably wouldn't work for me and I'd have to still take 
shots." But it's worked just fine, freeing her from the needles that she 
disliked so.
    The pump is not totally automatic, however, nor is Meredith home free; 
she still has to monitor her blood-sugar levels
    and administer the appropriate amount of insulin herself -- a tall order 
for a little girl.
    But Meredith is confident she and her mother, Shannon Duke, can handle 
    "A lot of people are afraid something tragic will happen to me, and I'd 
like to tell people that I'll be fine as long as I can get ahold of my mom 
[if she is away from home] and take care of myself."
    Meredith remembers what life was like before she was diagnosed with 
juvenile diabetes.
    "I used to get shaky all the time before lunch, and I was always 
starving," she says. And she was always thirsty.
    "I always drank, I never ate. I was really thirsty all the time and had 
to go to the bathroom all the time."
    In fact, her mother thought she had a bladder infection because Meredith 
had a problem with bedwetting, as she calmly explains --"I wet the bed 
because I drank so much."
    When tests showed the problem was actually diabetes, the Duke family's 
life changed.
    "I was shocked, of course," her mother recalls. "Upset, because I 
immediately thought of all the complete change that we were going to have to 
make in our lives."
    Now Shannon has some perspective on raising a child with a disease.
    "It's still diabetes, but we have it under control," Shannon says. "I 
just try not to think of all the long-term effects and just be happy that 
she's healthy right now.
    "Our goal is to keep her blood sugar under control. Since we've had the 
pump it's been easier, but so many things affect it that you can't just do 
the same things every day. She might be going through a growth spurt or 
eating something different or exercising."
    Uncertainty is part of the equation.
    "[Living with diabetes] is not black and white, it's gray," Shannon says.
    That gray area, or lack of understanding, is one thing that annoys 
    "I don't mean to be rude," she says, "but people ask the same questions 
over and over, and I get tired of it. Like they ask, 'Do you give yourself 
insulin when your sugar is too low or too high?' "
    Shannon also wishes people were better educated about the disease.
    "The main thing I want to get across is that people say, 'Oh you have 
insulin, so you're OK; that can be controlled.' But what they don't 
understand is that insulin is not a cure, it's life support. She'll never 
outgrow diabetes. Without insulin, Meredith would die," Shannon says.
    "That's why we want to raise money for research, so they can find a cure."
    If you want to help raise money for research, opportunity is at hand, or 
foot. Walk to Cure Diabetes is Saturday in Little Rock at the River Market. 
Check-in time is 7:30 a.m., and the walk starts at 9 a.m. Participation is 
free -- funds are raised through walkers' sponsors.
    And although the official entry deadline was Friday, Shannon stresses 
that you can register the day of the walk.
    For more information about the walk or to make a donation, contact Deana 
Jones at (501) 372-7515 or e-mail email @ redacted 
    For more information on juvenile diabetes, visit the Juvenile Diabetes 
Foundation Web site at: www.jdf.org
Write to Laura Cartwright in care of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, P.O. Box 
2221, Little Rock, Ark. 72203 or e-mail: email @ redacted 

This article was published on Monday, September 18, 2000
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