7-Year-Old Uses Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis to Teach Others
by TIM CRAIG
photos by FOSTER’S PHOTOGRAPHY
Monique Mathews played a hunch and saved her daughter’s life.
It was November 2019, and her daughter, Mia, was spending the night at her best friend’s house. However, Mia was crying after dinner because of a stomach ache — something that had become increasingly normal over the past three months.
Mathews called a late-night urgent care and described the symptoms. The physician said the ache may have something to do with the kidney and that she could bring Mia in.
“I called and said I was coming to pick Mia up,” Mathews says. “I’m sure they probably thought I was being paranoid because I had been to a lot of doctors, but I just wanted answers.”
Within 20 minutes of arriving, the answer came. Mia’s blood sugar level was 1035 — nearly 10 times higher than average. Her A1c level, which measures the amount of sugar coating the hemoglobin in red blood cells, was twice what it should be.
That’s when Mia, now 7 years old, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
With that diagnosis Mia became one of 187,000 people younger than the age of 20 who have Type 1 diabetes, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Diabetes Statistics Report for 2020. In all, 26.9 million people of all ages have been diagnosed with diabetes.
The diagnosis answered a lot of questions that had gone unanswered during the past three months. With no diabetes in her family history, Mathews missed many of the warning signs: an unquenchable thirst and increased hunger; complaints of stomach aches and headaches. These had affected her ability to hang out with her friends. It had affected her at home with her family. It had affected her at school — Mia got so hungry, she was caught taking snacks out of classmates’ bags.
“That was so out of character for her,” says Mathews. “We knew something was wrong.”
Mia went immediately to the hospital and doctors worked to lower her blood sugar and glucose level. She stayed in the hospital for two days. While Mia recovered, Mathews got a crash course in Type 1 diabetes, a course that didn’t last long enough.
“After two days, we were sent home and I thought, ‘Oh Lord, it’s so hard,’ ” Mathews says. “It was the lowest point in my life. It’s like getting sent home with a newborn without a guide.”
Mia remembers that time as well. “I thought it was confusing and that I was OK and they brought me here for nothing,” she says. “But I remember Momma crying when she found out and I got a little scared.”
It was during that stay in the hospital that things began to turn, as Mathews began to find people online who had gone through the same situation. They were more than ready to help.
“During the time in the hospital, I didn’t sleep, so I looked up some of the Facebook groups,” Mathews says. “I posted a prayer request for Mia in one and a mom reached out right away.”
The mom told Monique that her son was diagnosed at 9 and was now 21. That mom also tagged about 20 different moms to that post, Mathews remembers. It was the beginning of several relationships for her and her family.
“I was able to find connections in the diabetes community and there were so many people who reached out to me and helped me,” Mathews explains. “They are the types of people who will be there when you call at 3 a.m. with a question and they immediately say, ‘This is what you’re going to do.’ ”
As hard as it was at first, with the help of the community, it got easier, almost second nature.
“The biggest thing for us was for Mia to be independent and be in control of her diabetes,” Mathews says. That meant learning everything from pricking her finger to carb counts and insulin shots.
“The worst part is the shots,” says Mia, “because once you stick yourself, there’s no going back.”
Mia adapted quickly. Within four weeks, she was pricking her own finger. Within six weeks, she was doing her own shots. She did that kind of self-care for nearly three months before she was able to get her own Omnipod insulin pump and begin pump therapy.
While the Omnipod stopped the daily insulin shots, it opened up questions from her friends and classmates since the pump is attached to her arm. But that was a challenge Mia was more than happy to take on.
“When people ask, I usually answer that it’s something that helps me with my glucose and blood sugar,” says Mia. “I tell them about diabetes and how we don’t know why I had to have shots to take insulin, but I can manage it.”
Mathews says Mia has never shied away from talking to others about her diabetes.
“She has embraced it,” Mathews says. “She doesn’t let that be the only thing that defines her and in her mind, she wants to make sure she educates people about it.”
Because of Mia’s passion for teaching others about Type 1 diabetes, the family set up a Facebook page, “Mia’s Moments,” and a YouTube page where she talks about her journey with the disease.
“When I get older, I kind of want to be a scuba diver because I love sharks,” says Mia, “but I also want to be a diabetes doctor, so I can help others who also have this disease.”