Daily Herald American Diabetes Association
Addison student pursues nursing career to aid others

Like the parents of many college freshmen, Tom and Kathy Willis of Addison hugged daughter, Vikkie, 18, goodbye as she headed off to Millikin University to study nursing this fall.

Vikkie Willis
Vikkie Willis, 18, of Addison, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a prescchooler. Her experience with diabetes led her to major in nursing.

Did you know?

• The risk of developing type 1 diabetes is higher than virtually all other severe chronic diseases of childhood.

• Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can mimic flu in children.

• There is a higher incidence of type 1 diabetes in Caucasians than other racial groups.

While she joins sister, Heather, on the Decatur campus, her parents say the transition is both "scary and not."

Vikkie, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a four-year-old preschooler, has been managing her own diabetes control, with the help of her family, for years.

"We've all grown up with diabetes in the family," explains her dad, Tom, a Lombard firefighter and president of their Firefighters Union.

"I still remember the day when we moved into our new home in Addison and everyone was enjoying the pool. That's when we first noticed Vikkie missing. She'd fallen asleep on the living room floor."

In the days that followed, Willis says they noticed Vikkie napping more and more. She also seemed exceedingly thirsty.

"When we were out doing errands and would stop at 7-11 for a drink, she'd finish both a large soda and my Big Gulp," he recalls

"As a paramedic, I knew the signs and symptoms of diabetes, but didn't think I could possibly be right."

Willis took his daughter to the emergency room at Good Samaritan Hospital and was later told by staffers that Vikkie's 1400 urine glucose reading was one of the highest they'd seen at the time.

"She immediately was started on IV insulin and we spent time learning all we could about the disease," he recalls.

According to the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children - nearly one child out of every 400 will develop it.

Diabetes is a disease that impairs the body's ability to use food. The hormone insulin, which is made in the pancreas, helps the body change food into energy. For those with diabetes, their body doesn't make insulin, as in Willis' case, or it can't use insulin properly. Without insulin, sugar - the body's main energy source - builds up in the blood and urine.

Although diabetes can't be cured, it can be treated. Experts say that with family support, daily care and proper treatment, children with diabetes can lead active, healthy and fun-filled lives.

"I'd never wish for anyone to have a disease, but if it has to be something, diabetes is livable," Willis explains. "For our family - wife, Kathy, daughters Elyse, 24 and Heather, 21, and Vikkie's twin brother, John, 18, it's been a learning experience."

The family embraced Vikkie's challenge as Vikkie entered her elementary school years. ADA-sponsored day camp programs for children with diabetes and their siblings offered opportunities for role models, camaraderie and friendship.

Vikkie initially joined other day campers each summer at Camp Discovery, where her dad was instrumental in bringing the Lombard Fire Department to help. Big sister, Elyse, who is now completing her student teaching, and Heather also lent a hand as camp counselors and twin brother, John, attended as a camper.

Vikkie also found friendship, support and encouragement as she attended the ADA's weeklong Triangle D resident camping program in McHenry County and at teen camp, too.

"As a result of my experience with diabetes, I've always had a passion for medicine," admits Vikkie, who's enrolled as a nursing major at Milliken and is already a member of the school's Best Buddies program. "Diabetes is something I've always lived with. Once I started school, I remember doing the actual testing myself and by age 10 and fifth grade I tried the insulin pump."

Due to complications, Vikkie's doctors deferred her pump usage until age 16 and "it's been so much easier to manage my diabetes ever since," she reports.

During her high school years at Addison Trail, Vikkie excelled at gymnastics and the balance beam. However, the vivacious teen's daily routine differed from that of her peers and even that of her twin brother.

Diabetes and your child

According to the American Diabetes Association, children with the disease are not alone. Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children - nearly one child out of every 400-600 develops it.

Diabetes is a disease that impairs the body's ability to use food. The hormone insulin, which is made in the pancreas, helps the body change food into energy. For those with diabetes, either the body doesn't make insulin or it can't use insulin properly. Without insulin, sugar-the body's main energy source -builds up in the blood.

Although diabetes can't be cured, it can be treated. Experts say that with family support, daily care and proper treatment, children with diabetes can lead active, healthy and fun-filled lives.

"It was the hardest thing being the only one in my elementary school and one of only a very few in high school with diabetes," she admits. "Camp was very important and I still keep in touch with many of those friends on Facebook or via e-mail and text messages."

At Milliken, Vikkie says she enjoys spending time with roommate Ashley Gorman, another nursing major, and her sister, Heather.

"I've told my friends about my diabetes and even instructed them to yell at me to do my testing if I'm acting a little off," she reports. "Testing has become a habit and it's just something I do. It's truly not a big deal."

With loads of salad bar and wrap sandwich options, Vikkie says managing her diet with dorm food isn't difficult.

Her dad says if all else fails, he's comfortable picking up the phone to call one of a half dozen firefighter friends and paramedics in the Decatur firehouse, located just down the street from his daughter's dorm.

 

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