By Stacey Shepard
Town of Tonawanda — Not many toddlers know how to say the words “diabetes” and “insulin,” but 2-year-old Aaron Cohan does.
That’s because two months after he celebrated his first birthday, the Town of Tonawanda resident was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes.
“He went from a bottle to diabetes,” his mother, Mary Lu Cohan, said.
Type 1 diabetes, a life-threatening autoimmune disease, occurs when the body for unknown reasons stops producing insulin, a hormone necessary to regulate blood sugar levels. Without insulin, blood-sugar levels can reach dangerously high levels that can lead to blindness, circulation problems and, in extreme cases, unconsciousness and death.
For Aaron, living with diabetes over the past year has meant that the toddler has had to face needle injections twice a day and finger pricks to test the amount of sugar in his blood as many as four to six times a day. In addition, Mrs. Cohan and her husband, Al, had to feed Aaron at specific times of the day, which made for a difficult situation when the toddler complained of being hungry an hour before he was scheduled to eat. Or worse, the Cohans said, when Aaron refused to eat.
“It’s a constant struggle. They have to count every calorie the child eats,” said Karen Swierski, executive director of the Western New York Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
But that changed recently when the Cohans decided to switch from giving their son injections to putting him on an insulin pump, a newer device that works like a feeding tube and provides a more continuous supply of insulin to the body.
In doing so, Aaron became the youngest Type 1 diabetic in Western New York to use the pump.
“The pump allows more flexibility so the family can live a more stable life,” said Swierski, adding that the pump has become an increasingly more common means of treating the disease in the past five to seven years. “But you have to have parents that are willing to do it.”
While the device has been around for about 10 years, it used to be the size of a briefcase, she said.
With technological advances, it’s now about the size of a pager with a clasp that allows it to be attached to a belt or waistband. The pumps works by delivering insulin in small, continuous doses to the body through a thin plastic tube attached to a needle that is inserted into an area of the body with high fatty tissue.
According to the Cohans, the effects of switching to the pump have been dramatic.
While the device essentially performs the same function as the injections — it delivers insulin to the body — the continuous supply has regulated Aaron’s blood-sugar levels. This is in contrast to before, when his levels would fluctuate from extreme highs to extreme lows, the Cohans said.
Even though the pump still requires the use of needles, the infusion site is changed about every two days, reducing the number of times Aaron is poked each year from more than 700 times to about 150.
But more importantly, the Cohans said, the pump has meant a big lifestyle improvement for their son and them.
With more stabilized blood-sugar levels, Mr. and Mrs. Cohan have noticed that Aaron talks more and displays more energy.
“Before, he didn’t say much of anything,” Mr. Cohan said.
The family also has been able to move away from the rigid schedule they had before now that Aaron can eat almost anything at any time of the day.
And the “nerve-wracking” feelings for Mr. and Mrs. Cohan have subsided somewhat.
“It’s minimized the stress a lot,” Mrs. Cohan said.
Contact Stacey Shepard at (716) 693-1000, Ext. 114.