December 15, 2017
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Parents form new support group for families of children with Type 1 Diabetes

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Aroostook County – Two local mothers have joined forces to form a new support group, Touched by Type 1 in The County, to help both the children and adults in families that have a child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The group is getting organized and is already planning their first event on Saturday, April 29.

Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. Although type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescence, it also can begin in adults. Despite active research, type 1 diabetes has no cure. But it can be managed.

“When my daughter was first diagnosed, I remember how overwhelming it all was,” recalls Heidi O’Clair Thompson of Easton. “I didn’t even know what some of the words meant as the doctors in the emergency room were explaining what was wrong with her. Next thing I knew, they were transporting her by air to Bangor because she was so sick.”

That was the start down a life-changing journey for not only her daughter, but the entire family.

“There were some really scary times when we weren’t sure what we were doing. There were also many challenges, not only with her health but with things like dealing with the insurance company. A support group like this, that would connect me with other families who have gone through this, was just what I was looking for when Emmy was first diagnosed, but there wasn’t anything here,” says Thompson. She built a network of support through Facebook with parents across the country, but didn’t really have any local connections.

Meanwhile, Ashley Putnam Cole of Mapleton was going through similar challenges, with two of her three children suffering from type 1 diabetes. One advantage, if it could be called that, which she had was that her husband is also a type 1 diabetic. While this helped with the knowledge base of what was happening to her children, it wasn’t the same as having another mother to share concerns with, or children her kids could play with who might connect on a fundamental level and help each other feel more “normal” with their disease.

Cole reached out to Jamie Guerrette, community health specialist at The Aroostook Medical Center, to see if there was a way that the hospital could help facilitate a support group or provide help for parents. Guerrette suggested Cole connect with Thompson as well as Jennifer Robichaud, a nurse at TAMC’s Aroostook Pediatrics who is herself a type 1 diabetic. The four women met and agreed that a support group was needed in the community. Robichaud will remain a member of the group, providing personal perspective as someone who has been living with type 1 diabetes since she was a child as well as serving as a liaison with TAMC.

Since that initial meeting, the group has been getting organized. A Facebook page has been established with several families already joining the group. They also connected with school nurses to get the word out to the families of children with type 1 diabetes. The numbers were higher than they thought they would be.

“We have already identified about 12 to 15 children from the schools we have reached out to who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” says Thompson.

While much of their support efforts will be handled through Facebook, the group still hopes to meet monthly at various locations. Sometimes this get together will be a social activity, other times it might be more of a meeting. Either way, it is an opportunity to get together and get to know each other while building their support network.

To kick things off, the group is holding a Rock Wall event at the University of Maine at Presque Isle on Saturday, April 29, from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. The first hour will be for members of the Touched by Type 1 in The County group only, as a chance for them to meet and greet each other. The public is invited to come after 2:00 p.m. The cost is $4, a special rate for a day pass at UMPI’s Gentile Hall that will allow people to not only climb the rock wall, but to use the walking track, gym and other amenities.

Anyone with questions about the Rock Wall event on April 29 or about the Touched by Type 1 in The County support group can contact Heidi O’Clair Thompson at 488-4991 or craftsbyheidi@juno.com or Ashley Putnam Cole at putnam@ymail.com.