Marcus Alcala, Oakland Township resident and 15-year-old freshman at , is one of more than 40 students in the who have Type 1 diabetes, and he takes every chance he gets to educate the surrounding communities on the disease.
Every day for school Marcus wears trendy clothes, a backpack and an insulin pump. The pump, which is connected to his hip, is an easy way for Marcus to manage his insulin, and in turn blood sugar level, during the day. Instead of injecting needles into his abdomen numerous times a day, he has a soft cannula, which is a plastic needle, connected to the pump*. He changes the needle every three days.
In addition to the pump, Marcus has to make sure he packs enough snacks, such as Rice Krispies treats, to make it through the school day and after-school activities without dropping low, a term referring to a low blood-sugar level. Having a high blood-sugar level, or as Marcus said, "being high," is just the opposite.
“If I was high, I would act kind of crazy and not know what was going on, really, and if I was low, I’d be really weak,” Marcus said.
Although the pump is set up to feed insulin to his body 24 hours a day, Marcus still has to administer a blood test at least five times a day to check his blood-sugar level. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and before bed are mandatory times; and other blood-test times vary depending on the day's activities and whether Marcus wants to consume any special food groups.
According to Rochester Community School District nurse Ronda Harrison, Type 1 diabetes seems to be on the rise in the schools, and there is trained staff in every building to help with diabetic situations. For students such as Marcus, who are capable of testing their own glucose* level, they have the freedom to get up and go to the bathroom freely, go to their lockers or do what they need to do in order to monitor it.
“I think that Rochester is just doing a great job in accommodating these students,” Harrison said. “Any parents that have a fear of sending their child to schools with Type I diabetes need to know that the issues are really being addressed.”
Marcus was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 9. His parents caught on to the fact that something abnormal was going on with his body because he no longer had complete control of his bladder, was constantly thirsty and had blurred vision.
After they found out that he has diabetes, his mother, Sarah Alcala, enrolled him in a summer camp so he could meet other children suffering from the same disease.
The family then became involved in the American Diabetes Association and started participating in the Tour de Cure every year, a biking challenge to raise money for a cure to diabetes. This will be the Alcala family’s sixth year participating in the bike challenge, and they hope to raise $15,000 for the cause.
In 2007, Marcus served as the youth ambassador for the Tour de Cure, and he has spoken to area doctors and schools about the disease since.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is, to always have to monitor it and everything,” Marcus said. “I just think it would be better if people were more aware, so I tell them my story.”
In spite of the disease, Marcus still plays basketball for fun and is on the cross-country and track team at Adams. For the most part, he has learned to manage his diabetes. There have been times where he has been stranded without a snack in sight, but those occurrences happen rarely.
According to his mother, he is conscious of what he can and cannot eat, even if he is at a party with fellow classmates.
“You can’t goof around — he can’t just take the pump off for six hours, he can’t skip five blood tests, he can’t eat doughnuts at 4 a.m. with his friends. It just doesn’t work that way,” Sarah Alcala said.
Harrison said exercise is an important component to coping with diabetes and that the more involved patients are, oftentimes the healthier they are.
“You just have to make sure you have enough food in your system, so to speak; it’s a balancing act,” Harrison said. “For them, they need insulin, food intake and activity — and have to have all three in the right proportion.”
As far as running goes, Alcala said she anticipated having to worry about Marcus going low, but she found just the opposite. Instead, his adrenaline was putting his blood sugar levels through the roof, making him high, because he was so nervous for his races. Cases such as this are when it gets tricky to pump the correct amount of insulin and take in the proper amount of food.
“It’s manageable, and he does very well with it,” Alcala said. “You get into a routine where you do your blood test, you eat properly, exercise properly, and your blood sugar is in good control, but it never goes away, and there are still many complications.”