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Nine-year-old Xavier Freitas was in hospital just after Christmas for what his parents thought was a stomach bug.

Tests showed high blood sugar levels. An endocrinologist at the Hospital for Sick Childrendiagnosed Xavier with Type 1 diabetes, and told his parents they’d initially be spending quite a bit of time in hospital.

“Once you’re diagnosed, they immediately put you into a whole learning program because it is life-changing,” said Xavier’s mom, Tania Freitas. “Sick Kids treated us amazing. But my husband and I asked if we could possibly move somewhere in our community. We thought it would be easier to be closer to home.”

Xavier’s Sick Kids endocrinologist recommended William Osler Health System’s new pediatric program at the Diabetes Education Center at Etobicoke General Hospital.

“They’re quite thorough and very personable,” Freitas said, noting Xavier only needs to take a half day off school for appointments. “They make you feel comfortable as soon as you walk in. They really take their time with us, and really make sure things are specific to Xavier and to his needs.”

Xavier added: “After a couple of weeks, it got a little easier. I understand it more. They’re good. They help a lot.”

Xavier sees Osler pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Stephen Zborovski, medical lead at Etobicoke General Hospital, and registered nurse Anterpreet Dhaliwal, and Ackwinder Samra-Gill, a registered dietician, both of whom are certified diabetes educators.

The pediatric clinic has supported Xavier and 54 other children, infants to age 18, with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes since it opened last September. Most patients are aged 10 to 15.

Patients are referred to the clinic by either a family doctor or a diabetes specialist at another hospital.

Alex and Brad Krawczyk and the Krawczyk Family Foundation funded a blood sugar-testing machine for the clinic, eliminating patients’ need to go to a lab.

Samra-Gill talks about portions with children and what they eat using plastic food models.

“When you eat Froot Loops versus Cheerios, look at the difference,” Samra-Gill tells patients citing their blood sugar data. “I think kids need to be independent in their learning and accountable. But when kids want gummy bears, they want gummy bears. ‘OK. You can have it. But what’s an alternative? Do you need it every day?’ I teach them to read labels. With more knowledge, they’ll make change.”

Dhaliwal teaches children and families day-to-day diabetes management.

“Learning how to check the blood sugar, what those numbers mean, what the target should be, what impacts those numbers; learning about food and exercise, how to give themselves insulin, short-lasting and long-lasting insulin, when to take that, how to adjust their insulin if they’re sick, how to manage that and diabetes management in school,” Dhaliwal said.

Osler opened his Etobicoke General clinic to relieve families challenged to get to his Peel Memorial hospital clinic in Brampton, Zborovski said.

“Getting from the Etobicoke area to Peel is definitely not easy, particularly if you don’t have your own car and you’re reliant on public transit,” Zborovski said. “A lot of patients ended up getting their care elsewhere; in downtown Toronto at Sick Kids or another site they could access through public transportation.”

Zborovski tells families diabetes needs not be life-limiting.

“I always want them to know we’re going to help them make sure their child is going to get to do everything they wanted to do, everything they were going to do, and everything they were doing from the day before their diagnosis,” Zborovski said.

Diabetes also doesn’t limit children’s future, Zborovski added.

“We want to make sure their child is going to go to school, does well in school; if they’re interested in sports or sciences, in trades, whatever they want to do, whatever they want to be, we’re going to work with them to help them achieve those goals. They are a person with diabetes, and diabetes is one part of their life, but not the main part of their life.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When reporter Tamara Shephard learned about Osler’s new pediatric diabetes clinic at Etobicoke General Hospital, she wanted to learn how its team supports young patients and families.

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