For people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D), nurses are amazing resources, supporters, and much-needed guides through all of the calculations and finger pricks. On National School Nurse Day—and every day—we thank each and every nurse who supports those living with T1D.
Kathy Dearborn is a school nurse whose husband and son have T1D. Kathy currently works in the Wissahickon School District—four days a week at Stony Creek Elementary with the occasional sub in Pennridge, where she lives with her husband, Michael.
Keep reading to learn from Kathy’s professional expertise and personal experience, as she offers advice for coordinating care in the school setting and explains what JDRF means to her as the loved one of two family members with T1D.
Tell us about your personal T1D connection.
In 2001, my then 18-month-old son was diagnosed with T1D. A few years before that, my husband was diagnosed with T1D. When my son was diagnosed, I felt so powerless; there was nothing I could do to make it go away. I remember—when we were at CHOP—thinking, “I got this. I can control it. I’m a nurse for goodness sake.” Looking back, it’s funny that I even thought that.
Why and how have you personally been involved with JDRF?
When you feel like you can’t do anything to change something, you look for anything that gives you some feeling of control. For me, that was JDRF. If I could not cure it, I would support an organization that might be able to.
Erik was diagnosed in July, and we did our first JDRF Walk that September. We started with a Walk team of about 30 people. It has evolved into mailing over 120 letters, asking for donations and support. We sometimes had 50-plus people walking with us, followed by a big thank-you lunch at our house. It was always a special day for Erik.
During those years, I also became a mentor with JDRF, supporting newly diagnosed families. I was a speaker at the JDRF conference two years as well. We now participate in the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes. This September will be our third year. Riding my bike 100 miles with my T1D son is a memorable day for me.
It really is all about education. Most staff are more than willing to support a student with T1D.
How and why did you become a school nurse?
I always wanted to be a nurse. My first job was at CHOP. When I got married, I got my school nurse certification, thinking that would be a nice job to have with a family. I started school nursing before I had children, took a break for many years to raise my family, and then started subbing as they got older.
How many students with T1D do you oversee, and what is your strategy/philosophy to ensure safety and support while they are at school?
Currently, I only have one student with T1D. He was diagnosed at the end of the school year last year. I worked closely with the student and family to make sure they felt confident in having the student at school. We set up a 504 Plan and educated teachers and staff. It really is all about education. Most staff are more than willing to support a student with T1D. I also spoke to the student’s class, teaching them about T1D and answering questions.
What advice do you have for nurses caring for children with T1D?
Always speak up if you are not confident in some aspect of a student’s care. The technology related to T1D is rapidly changing. If you don’t live it, it is easy to not be familiar with ways of managing T1D. Be flexible, encourage independence, communicate with parents—but get the child involved. They have to learn to manage and make decisions about care multiple times a day.
What advice do you have for parents coordinating diabetes care in the school setting?
Be patient, offer education. Remember that some nurses have not managed a student with T1D in a while. Most are more than willing to learn how you manage your child’s diabetes. Provide good documentation and orders from the health care provider.
It makes a big difference having someone to talk to who understands your emotions.
What advice do you have for children with T1D as they learn to manage their disease (1) away from their parents and (2) amongst their peers who may not understand T1D?
This is your disease to manage. It stinks that you have to, but there it is. Learn to take good care of yourself, become as independent as you can. That builds your confidence and your parents’ confidence in letting you go. Parents nag you because they love you.
As for friends—don’t ever hide your T1D. Educate your friends. Tell them what T1D is, and teach them how they can help you. What should they worry about if they notice something with you? If you are able to educate others, most are very understanding and supportive.
Looking for educational resources for your child’s teachers? Check out JDRF’s free, downloadable School Advisory Toolkit. We also invite you to learn more about getting involved with One Walk or Ride to Cure Diabetes—two phenomenal fundraising and T1D community-building events!