Diabetes doesn’t have to slow kids down

New Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program will help kids with Type 1 diabetes excel on the playing field.

Kids need to play and move. It’s part of a healthy childhood. They’re meant to run around until they’re red in the face and exhausted. But when a child has Type 1 diabetes, vigorous activity, such as sports, can cause major health consequences due to changes in blood sugar levels.

A $1 million pledge to the Children’s Hospital Foundation will give children with Type 1 diabetes the help they need to stay active on the playing field.

The gift will establish the Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program at Norton Children’s Hospital. The program will be part of the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center, which is a collaboration between Norton Children’s Hospital, the University of Louisville and UofL Physicians.

Tony Christensen, president of Access Wealth Management, is making the pledge in honor of his son, Mason, who has Type 1 diabetes.

“My family feels very fortunate to have a top facility like the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center in our community,” Christensen said. “Through this diabetes sports medicine program we will strive to provide children and young adults with Type 1 diabetes the same level of care and process that professional athletes with Type 1 diabetes receive.

“We want to get to a point where young athletes and their families can enjoy sporting events without worrying about dangerous drops in their blood sugar levels. It’s a huge need and we are happy to be a part of this exciting program.”

“Our goal is for everyone with diabetes to be able to maximize their performance, whether just playing outside or competing in organized sports,” said Kupper A. Wintergerst, M.D., chief of pediatric endocrinology and director of the Wendy Novak Diabetes Care Center at Norton Children’s Hospital and the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “We want to empower children and young adults with diabetes to be able to live long, healthy, active lives.”

The Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program will provide individualized monitoring and education for children with Type 1 diabetes, both on and off the playing field. It also will conduct research into the management of diabetes in young athletes.

“Children with Type 1 diabetes often experience drastic changes in their blood sugar levels when they are exercising, which influence their safety and performance,” Dr. Wintergerst said. “Different levels of exercise require different care. The more formal the play, the more refined and personalized the steps need to be to manage diabetes.”

“Thanks to the generosity of the Christensen family, we have a unique opportunity to help children excel in sports, or whatever activity they choose,” said Lynnie Meyer, Ed.D., R.N., CFRE, chief development officer, Norton Healthcare. “This is a one-of-a-kind program that we hope to see grow and expand with additional funding.”

More than 1,300 children and young adults are currently being treated for Type 1 diabetes by specialists at the University of Louisville and Norton Children’s Hospital. Approximately 150 children in our area are diagnosed each year, all of whom receive their initial care and education in the inpatient unit of the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center at Norton Children’s Hospital.

“We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in hospital admissions due to Type 1 diabetes since 2008,” Dr. Wintergerst said. “The incidence of Type 1 diabetes is showing no sign of slowing here or across the world.”

Type 1 diabetes usually is diagnosed in children and young adults, and occurs when cells in the pancreas, damaged by the immune system, produce little or no insulin. Insulin is necessary for moving blood sugar into cells for storage and use as energy. When the body does not make enough insulin, the blood sugar builds up and cannot turn into energy. While no one knows the exact cause, this autoimmune disorder can be fatal if not properly treated.

Type 1 diabetes differs from Type 2 diabetes, which is more commonly diagnosed in adults. In Type 2, the body becomes resistant to the insulin it produces, often due to weight gain, poor diet and lack of activity. Ultimately, this results in high blood sugar as well.

People with Type 1 diabetes must test their blood sugar five or more times per day. Treatment includes taking multiple insulin injections or using an insulin pump every day, along with maintaining proper diet and exercise. There is currently no cure.

In 2013, a $5 million gift to the Children’s Hospital Foundation from the Lift a Life Foundation established the Wendy Novak Diabetes Center at Norton Children’s Hospital. Established in 1999 through a charitable trust by David and Wendy Novak, the Lift a Life Foundation provides innovative grants to nonprofit partners serving Kentucky.


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