Join the fight against Type 1 diabetes

By: Elizabeth Scussel, Nick Mordowanec | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 22, 2015


BEVERLY HILLS — It was Halloween when Jennifer Rass realized something wasn’t quite right with her 5-year-old son, Ethan.

Rass said frequent trips to the classroom drinking fountain during his kindergarten Halloween party initially tipped her off. He was also having accidents, she said, which wasn’t like him.

“We took him trick-or-treating that night, and when we got home, he only wanted one piece of candy. We thought, ‘OK, now that’s weird,’” said Rass, of Beverly Hills.

The following day, Rass took Ethan to the pediatrician.

When his blood sugar test came in at 586 — more than five times higher than the normal range — Ethan received an immediate diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes.

“My first thought was, ‘How can I give him shots every day?’” Rass said. “I was terrified. The rest of that year was a complete blur. I don’t remember Thanksgiving or Christmas. It sounds crazy, but it was like the wind was knocked out of us.”

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 10.8 percent of Michigan residents — or about 758,000 — have been diagnosed with some form of diabetes.

In Oakland County, 8.9 percent of the population has been diagnosed with diabetes, and in Macomb County, 8.5 percent of the population has diabetes. Only about 5 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1. The prevalence of Type 1 diabetes in Americans under age 20 rose by 21 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Senior Vice President and Chief Science Officer Dr. Arthur Franke, of the National Kidney Foundation,  explained that those numbers may actually be even higher.

“A lot of people live a long time having (diabetes), and they don’t know they have it,” Franke said, explaining that an estimated 259,000 adults have undiagnosed diabetes, which can lead to serious complications, including kidney failure, heart disease, blindness and lower extremity amputation.

Those people who are unaware of their disease don’t regularly go to their own doctor, and they possess subtle symptoms — such as being thirstier or urinating irregularly — that are livable but not convenient, he said.

As in Ethan Rass’ case, with Type 1 diabetes, formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes, individuals are insulin-dependent because their bodies either do not make enough insulin or the insulin is not being used correctly.

Type 2 diabetes — which was formerly referred to as late onset — occurs when insulin is ineffective in controlling blood sugar, and people have to control it through what they eat and how they stay active.

Type 3 diabetes is gestational and happens to women who are pregnant or once were pregnant and gave birth to a child greater than 9 pounds.

Rass explained that while managing the disease is overwhelming for parents, it’s also overwhelming for school teachers and administrators.

“School nurses are a thing of the past. Those responsibilities are now being put on secretaries, principals and teachers. I had to train them on something that I had just learned,” she said, adding that she was terrified to burden staff with such a huge responsibility, and also to entrust them to take care of her child.

Just recently, Beaumont Children’s Hospital and JDRF released a video to aid in education for school personnel. A written guide for treating children with Type 1 diabetes in the school setting was also included. The tools are intended to be used in conjunction with formal training.

The video was sent to every school in Oakland County, and Rass said it serves as a great resource and tool for schools.

Ethan is now in the third grade at Bingham Farms Elementary School, and Rass said the school has been amazing.

“They’re really part of our care team now,” she said.

As far as parents faced with similar situations, Rass recommends taking a deep breath and taking time to recognize and cope. 

“So many people reached out and wanted to help. The community of resources are there when you’re ready. But it’s overwhelming,” she said. “I remember wondering if all the shock and sadness was ever going to disappear. It doesn’t. But it does get easier.”

On Sept. 27, Rass is inviting the community to participate in the JDRF One Walk to benefit Type 1 diabetes research. The event features food, entertainment, activities for children and more. On-site registration will begin at 8:30 a.m., and the walk will begin at 9:30 a.m. The 1.5-mile stroll will be held on the grounds of the General Motors Technical Center in Warren.

To register for the JDRF One Walk, visit To watch the educational video, visit For more information about National Kidney Foundation of Michigan programs, classes and resources, visit