DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Centers for Disease Control say that 29.1 million Americans have diabetes. Only five percent have type 1 diabetes, something that doctors call a medical mystery. Living with the disease is life changing and it's affecting a member of the Channel 13 News family.
"We're used to forecasting highs and lows but these unexpected highs and lows are not fun." Meteorologist Jeriann Ritter and her husband, Rob, never thought they would be excited about a special sensor. A sensor that will help monitor their son and potentially keep him alive.
The couple began an unexpected medical journey over the summer when their 6-year-old son, Luke, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Several weeks prior to the diagnosis Luke began losing weight, complained of extreme thirst, and started urinating more frequently than usual.
"I thought we were gonna go to the doctor and get a quick pill or something but that was not the case," she said.
It wasn't a urinary tract infection, instead doctors at Blank Children's Hospital took Luke's blood and realized his blood sugar levels were dangerously high.
Life for the Ritters changed forever at that moment.
The family was immediately trained on how to test and monitor Luke's blood sugar and insulin levels. It has been a steep learning curve for the busy family of four. Luke is already a pro at testing his levels by himself, he has to do it six to eight times each day.
Jeriann said the adjustment hasn't been easy and that it is a reminder of how much learning lies ahead. "Sometimes, the younger the better. It just becomes a way of life and they don't know any different," she said.
Blank Children's Hospital nurse practitioner Dan Sleiter does not have Luke as a patient but has several others just like him. He said the number of children being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is growing. He's recently diagnosed up to five kids in a week.
What's most alarming is the disease is a medical mystery. It's not genetic and it doesn't have a cure.
"'Is there something in our environment that is causing these triggers? Is there something in our diet that is causing these triggers?' All auto immune diseases are on the rise and we don't know exactly why," said Sleiter. "It's a hard thing for us as providers to explain to a family, I know what you have but I don't know why you have it."
Thanks to medical technology there is a device helping those living with the disease. It's called Dexcom. It's a sensor attached to Luke's hip that will monitor his blood sugar levels and send the result to his parents' cell phones every five minutes.
It's not a "fix all" solution but it helps bring peace of mind to Luke and those caring for him. As the Ritter family prays for a cure, Jeriann stresses that her experience should serve as a reminder for others to tap into their parental instincts when they feel something isn't right.
As for a cure: The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation works to raise money for diabetes research. Just last month, the organization raised $400,000 at its Hope Gala in Des Moines.