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Nevis Principal Brian Michaelson and senior Alexis Johnson both have diabetes.

Just about every day they ask each other, at some point, how it’s going, even comparing blood sugar numbers when they pass in the hallway at school.

Often they will remind each other to “make good choices.”

Michaelson, who has type 2 diabetes, was diagnosed with the disease 17 years ago.

“Type 2 onset is hereditary; it’s genetics,” he said. “It started out borderline and I was put on medication, taking one pill. Over the years, it progressed, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that the doctor recommended I start insulin. My grandparents on both sides had it. It runs in the family, unfortunately.”

Johnson, who is 18, found out she had Type 1 diabetes on Christmas Day when she was just 6 years old.

“It’s the type you develop at a young age,” she said. “I was acting like I was drunk, running into things and constantly eating and drinking because my stomach hurt so bad,” she said. “It felt like my organs were eating each other.”

Her family was living in Osage and took her to the emergency room.

“They pushed a bunch of fluids and said they were fairly certain that I had diabetes. My pancreas doesn’t create any insulin.”

Once she was on insulin, Johnson said she felt so much better. “I was getting insulin shots four times a day,” she said.

While most kids that age don’t like getting shots, she said she realized it was helping her feel normal instead of sick.

Technology has made managing diabetes easier for both of them. Michaelson wears a FreeStyle Libre monitor, which can be scanned with his phone to give blood sugar readings, eliminating the needle pokes used to test in years past. Johnson has used a Dexcom monitoring system for two years.

“Mine connects to an insulin pump and pairs with my phone,” she said. “Before that, I had to use a glucometer and poke myself. Now I can monitor myself 20 times a day, where before I just pricked my finger every time.”

Clinic staff can also check the A1C (three-month average) blood sugar. “The goal is to keep that number down,” she said.

Johnson has been attending school in Nevis since eighth grade. “I already had a friend here who knew I had diabetes, so I just kind of stayed with her group,” she said.

She said the most challenging part about having diabetes is keeping her blood sugar in the normal range.

“Making good choices isn’t necessarily staying away from certain foods, it’s just making sure you give yourself enough insulin,” she said. “My pump can read my blood sugar and warns me when it is starting to go up or down. Usually, I’m getting insulin throughout the day. There’s a little site that goes on my stomach or arm with a little tube that will inject the insulin.The only time I take it off is when I’m going to be in contact with water.”

She said she only drinks diet pop because it has no carbohydrates.

She often brings her own snacks to eat throughout the day, rather than having a full meal at school lunch.

Eating food that is labeled for nutritional value helps her track carbohydrates.

Michaelson said it was about a year ago, while doing lunch supervision, that he noticed Johnson checking her blood sugar.

“I pulled out my meter and said, ‘You’re not alone.’ That’s when we started having a competition of who has a decent blood sugar number. We usually do that two or three times a day when we see each other in the hallways. You want to keep your numbers between 80 and 120. That’s the range that’s normal. We want to stay away from the 200s. If it goes into the 300 or 400s, I start feeling dizzy.”

“I get angry and crabby and snap at everybody,” Johnson said. “When I get crabby, my friends ask about my blood sugar. Sometimes it’s that, or sometimes I’m just crabby because I’m crabby.”

Johnson said knowing Principal Michaelson is checking on her helps.

“Now we have another reason to keep our blood sugar in check,” Johnson said. “He does know what I’m going through and understands.”

Johnson said she has learned to count carbohydrates to know how much insulin to put in.

“I use the calculator on my phone,” she said. “The nutrition facts are usually on the packages.”

For example, if she wants to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two pieces of bread are 30 carbs, a tablespoon of jelly is about 30 carbs and a tablespoon of peanut butter is 25. Adding the numbers up gives an estimate of how much insulin to take.

“There’s a diabetes specialist to help with that,” she said. “Even with salad, the dressings have carbs. It all depends on how much dressing you put on it.”

She said having lived with diabetes so long and being able to manage it, she sometimes forgets she even has diabetes.

After high school, Johnson is going to college in Wahpeton where she is planning to major in psychology.

“I’m interested in the human mind and how it works and why people do what they do,” she said.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the key to prevention is knowing the risk. Take their free, online 60-second Type 2 Diabetes risk test at www.diabetes.org.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 96 million American adults – more than 1 in 3 – have prediabetes.

Of those with prediabetes, more than 80% don’t know they have it. Pre-diabetes puts people at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Both diabetes and pre-diabetes risk tests are available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.

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