Weathering Hurricane Harvey with Type 1 Diabetes

When I speak with LaQuishe Wright, she and her two sons are living in a hotel room. During the course of our conversation, Wright, the mother of a child with Type 1 diabetes, laments less the loss of her house in Katy, Texas to Hurricane Harvey than she does the loss of her son’s diabetes supplies. It is one of the few times that she allows herself to feel sorrow for what she and her family endured during the hurricane.

“I left most of his insulin backup supply in the refrigerator,” Wright said in a telephone interview. “We had months and months worth of supplies, but now I just have a single prescription’s worth.”

She considers herself one of the lucky ones in the Houston area. Wright’s luck is partly self-made. Several years ago, she began posting about actor Channing Tatum on Twitter just at the point when Tatum and other celebrities realized they needed help to manage their social media images. Tatum hired Wright to manage his Twitter account, and a few other celebrities followed suit. Those celebrities have come through for Wright by helping raise funds so she and her family can rebuild.

Her can-do attitude, however, seems to also be forged from years of experience as a mother of a child with diabetes. She is used to thinking a step ahead to avoid danger for her son, Ryan, and that gave her the instinct to evacuate before her neighborhood became cut off by flood waters. The neighborhood was still relatively dry when she packed up Ryan, his brother, Bry, and their two dogs, and left at two in the morning. Unbeknownst to her and her neighbors, their neighborhood was a backup floodplain for the local reservoir, and engineers had decided to open the gates. Her neighbors were trapped for hours and lost their vehicles.

“I think Ryan’s diabetes has prepared me to be in crisis mode,” she said.

For a time, crisis mode was the standard operating procedure for daily life for Wright and her son, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was just 10 months old. Before Ryan’s diagnosis, Wright had noticed he was nursing more often and had an insatiable appetite; then she noticed his breath was sweet; finally, one morning, he was lethargic. At the emergency room, doctors didn’t test his blood sugar until she insisted. It was 720 mg/dL. They didn’t have tubing small enough to give him an IV drip of insulin, and he was taken to a different hospital. He screamed constantly during the ordeal, but she couldn’t nurse him until the insulin IV was started.

“That was the hardest time ever,” Wright said in a tone that seemed to dismiss her current plight as more an inconvenience in comparison.

It didn’t get much easier at first. His blood sugar levels fluctuated as they started him on basal injections. They couldn’t find the right amount of insulin to give for his little body, and sometimes when his levels dropped, he refused to eat.

“I was literally chasing him around with Craisins and maraschino cherries,” Wright said.

He was started on small bolus injections, and life smoothed out. Wright reports that her now-teenage son’s blood sugar management is generally uneventful, and that’s partly because he grew up with a lower-carb diet as the norm. Of course, there has been a blip in his numbers recently.

“His numbers have been running fairly high. I don’t know how much of it is the hormonal situation…and how much of it is related to the stress of the situation,” she said.

Certainly, the stress of losing one’s home to a disaster can seep through to all facets of everyday life. Although he and his brother are back in school, and Wright reports the school nurse there is excellent, the chaos of being uprooted after a disaster affects them all. Wright tends not to let it affect her, but her voice catches as she recalls going back to her house to salvage belongings, and as she talks of her neighbors who lost their homes and cars.

“There are 10 million stories like mine, but we’re all doing the best we can,” she said.

You can find how to give to Houston-area charities still helping those affected by Harvey by clicking here. If you would like to help those with diabetes affected by natural disasters, consider donating to Insulin for Life USA.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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