Traveling abroad with diabetes: Part 3

Reflections from a teen with type 1 diabetes who traveled abroad.

After experiencing an extraordinary trip to the rainforest and scuba diving in the ocean on the Caribbean country of Dominica, Tyler, 17 years old, shared his reflections on the trip and how it helped him to be more confident and take ownership of his diabetes self-care. This trip provided the perfect opportunity for him to be more mature and responsible for his diabetes management and overall wellbeing.

Just a year ago, Tyler took a job as a camp counselor at the local YMCA. This position required him to be at camp all week and every week for the summer with two days off each week where he could leave the camp. Tyler wears a diabetes glucose monitor that sends his glucose levels to his phone and his mom’s phone. Many times during the summer, Tyler would have challenges with his glucose levels prompting his mom to make a quick trip to the camp with the necessary supplies to stabilize his glucose. When Tyler began planning for the trip to Dominica, his endocrinologist was concerned about Tyler being able to effectively control his type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Planning for this trip began a year before the actual trip and Tyler’s mom began to notice that with each visit to the endocrinologist, Tyler began asking more questions, thinking through scenarios with the doctor, and discussing the best options for controlling his blood glucose level. They talked about what to expect from days of walking through the rainforest and scuba diving. Tyler also took the initiative to make sure that the students knew what to do if he was unable to care for himself during the trip.

Due to the initiative showed by Tyler combined with being able to talk with the organization that planned the trip, Tyler’s parents felt very comfortable allowing Tyler to attend. Tyler’s mother was actually very happy to see him leave knowing that he was in good hands and had thoroughly planned for every possibility. The only contact that Tyler had with his family was one phone call during the middle of the trip to say he was doing well.

During the trip, Tyler realized that constant walking lowered his blood glucose levels. He even found that just sweating lead to dehydration which lowered his glucose. Food was scarce the first week of the trip and Tyler relied mostly on fruit snacks to keep from becoming severely hypoglycemic. Tyler’s mom was thankful for his continuous glucose monitor; a sensor Tyler wore to warn him of when his glucose levels were low or high. She didn’t think that he would check his glucose enough otherwise. They both found this device to be an important tool in preventing unnecessary diabetic situations.

After Tyler returned, his mom noticed that he continued to take control of his diabetes and she did not have to monitor his glucose constantly and worry. The endocrinologist was pleased with Tyler’s A1c levels. Tyler confirms from what he learned from being at YMCA camp and then going on the trip to Dominica is that “There is no one way to prepare. It is always a different battle. Don’t be afraid.”

Tyler and his family have never hidden his T1D. They have always approached any possible obstacle with the attitude of “we can do this.” Whatever Tyler has wanted to do, whether it be soccer, golf or swimming, they figured out a plan of how to allow Tyler to be like everyone else. There is no difference between Tyler and any other classmate who wants to pursue something new. Tyler just puts a little extra planning into his adventure and is not afraid to ask for help. And by asking for help, Tyler found that he learns more about his diabetes self-care.

Tyler feels like this experience has helped to prepare him for college coming next year. He feels that he has more confidence and knowledge in managing his diabetes and doesn’t need to rely on his mom as much for managing his disease. Tyler’s mother shared, “As a parent, you have to allow them those opportunities to grow, as scary and uncomfortable as it is. Otherwise, how else are they going to learn?” She suggests starting with small overnight opportunities and work up to more complex activities.

This trip was not only a yearlong preparation for Tyler, but for his parents as well. Confidence and a sense of accomplishment exuded from Tyler and his mom as they shared their stories.

For more information about managing diabetes and living a healthy lifestyle, visit Michigan State University Extension.

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