CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — 5-year-old Alia Riojas is a ball of positive energy and has a colorful personality. Unless you saw the gadget placed on her arm, you probably wouldn't even know she's a Type 1 diabetic. She was diagnosed when she was seven months old.
"She had started throwing up and she had trouble breathing, from what my wife was telling me at the time. I met them at the hospital," said her father Andrew Riojas. "They were checking her for respiratory infections. And you know the flu. We didn't know what was going on. Even thinking about it now, it's just scary to think about how helpless you kind of feel."
Andrew said it took several hours for healthcare professionals at the hospital to find she had diabetes. Because it's rare for infants to be diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder, some of the hospital workers didn't think of running her blood sugar levels until a doctor recommended it.
Before the specific doctor looked at Alia's information, health workers prior recommended that Alia be tested using bone marrow. Her parents were warned that the procedure was painful.
"The doctor in the background grabbed the chart and said 'has anyone bothered to take this little girl's blood sugar level?' And everyone was looking around whispering, no, no, no. And he said 'how about we start there?' And then he walked out," Andrew remembered. "They checked her blood sugar level, and I can't remember how high it was, but it was high and that was the issue. Crazy thing is, we never saw that doctor again. I always wanted to say thank you because he saved my daughter's life."
Type 1 diabetes is a serious autoimmune disease and occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Treatment is a lifelong process but after more than four years of managing diabetes, Alia seems to know the drill.
"When my numbers drop, I have to eat something. Also, when my numbers are high, I have to get insulin and stuff. And I also know that I can't run when my numbers are dropping." she said.
Aliah wears a sensor that monitors her blood sugar levels. Her parents track it constantly with an app on their phone. They also have an alarm that sets off every 15 minutes to remind them to check-in on her. She also has an insulin pump.
Her parents said they manage what she eats as well. It may seem like a lot for a kindergartener, but for Alia, it's just another part of her daily routine.
"When she was little, she wasn't even afraid of being poked because she knew what was happening so often. It was just a part of her life," her father said.
Helping a child manage diabetes could involve team efforts. Andrew mentioned that Alia started kindergarten this year and he said her teachers, school nurses, and the rest of the staff have all been a huge asset to help her stay healthy.
According to the National Institute of Health diabetes rates are rising among children. A 2020 National Diabetes statistic shows 210,000 people under the age of 20 in the United States are diagnosed with it. There is currently no cure, which is why lifelong treatment is necessary.
If you or someone you know is struggling with diabetes, the Coastal Bend Health Education Center offers classes to help you learn how to control it. Preregistration is required by calling (866)-524-1408.