MACOMB TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Toddlers are a funny bunch, always changing and developing new quirks. But when Janelle Dowdy noticed a strange symptom in her two-year-old daughter Elizabeth, she had a gut feeling something just wasn't right.
"It started with her drinking a lot of water, and I thought it was really strange," said Dowdy.
As a nurse, Dowdy knew that extreme thirst can be a symptom of diabetes. But when she raised the possibly with coworkers, they were reassuring.
"They're like, 'Oh, two-year-olds get fascinated by water. Just kind of watch her,'" said Dowdy. "There's no family history of it. I was concerned, but then I kind of thought that maybe I'm just a paranoid mom."
Elizabeth was also urinating a lot.
"Then she'd ask me, 'Mama, I tired. It's nap time,' two hours after she'd wake up," said Dowdy. "And I told my husband, 'We need to take her to the doctor.'"
They made an appointment, but the next day, Elizabeth began vomiting. Jacob Dowdy rushed his daughter to urgent care, where they tested her blood sugar.
"The nurse was doing the test," said Jacob Dowdy. "As soon as I heard the beep, her face turned white and just ran right out and said, 'It's not good.'"
A normal blood sugar level in a toddler is between 100 and 200. Elizabeth's was 857, critically high.
Her parents reaction: "Panic. I knew that's not good, and that her life would change forever," said Janelle Dowdy.
"I was in shock," said Jacob Dowdy. "I'm like, 'This is a dream.' I'm like pinching myself trying to wake up, because I never thought it would happen."
Elizabeth was hospitalized and diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 occurs when a person's pancreas stops producing insulin. It's a diagnosis that three million Americans are living with, and it's not related to diet or lifestyle. Children are most often diagnosed between the ages of 4 to 6 or 10 to 14.
At an age where just knowing your age is an accomplishment, Elizabeth is now learning about life with diabetes. She already seems like a pro at handling her "pokes"
"We check her sugar four times a day, before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner, before night, and any other time that we think she's low," said Janelle Dowdy. "When I left the hospital, I had the thought, 'Oh, I'm a nurse. I can handle this.' And it's totally different when it's your family, and when it's your baby."
It's been a big adjustment. Managing diabetes is a constant challenge at any age, but with a toddler, there are added issues.
"Two-year-olds don't do what you want them to do when you want them to do it," said Janelle Dowdy. "It's just been a real challenge to get her to eat, to eat quickly, because they don't want her eating over a long period of time."
They carefully record each blood sugar reading, count the number of carbohydrates Elizabeth eats and give her insulin shots. They've found a small silver lining.
"I'm thankful that she is two. She will never know her life any different. This will always be just a part of her life," said Janelle Dowdy. "I just have to be positive and say, 'She can live with this. It's manageable.'"
Their concern for the future is tempered by a hefty dose of hope.
"Every doctor we talk to, that has a hand in the matter, says there is going to be a cure," said Jacob Dowdy.
They urge other parents to take potential symptoms seriously.
"You know your kid. You know what their normal is, you know what their different behaviors are, so go with your gut instinct, call your pediatrician, and so what if you're wrong," said Janelle Dowdy. "At least you know and it's in your child's best interest."
Most of all, they want everyone to realize, it can happen to you.
"You think, 'That's not going to be my kid. We're all going to be healthy. We're going to be running around not a care in the world,'" said Jacob Dowdy. "And then this comes up, and it's just an eye-opener that it can happen to you."
To learn more about type one diabetes, click here.
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