November is American Diabetes Month, an effort to focus national attention on the issues surrounding diabetes.
Nick Hansen, 18, is like any other college freshman. He’s making new friends, adapting to a hectic schedule and trying not to get lost around campus.
But he has one extra thing on his plate –- type 1 diabetes.
The Southwest Minnesota University student is one of 215,000 Americans under the age of 20 who have diabetes. That’s about 0.26% of all people in this age group, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Because November is American Diabetes Month, an effort to focus national attention on the issues surrounding diabetes, it’s important to understand university life through the eyes of diabetic students.
Hansen, who was diagnosed when he was seven, doesn’t think his college experience is that much different from anybody else’s.
“Transitioning, the biggest difficulty is checking my blood sugar,” he said. “Other than that it hasn’t been too hard.”
The criminal justice student spends the majority of his time focusing on things other than the disease.
Throughout high school he participated in football, basketball, baseball and track and field. He now plays as a wide receiver for the Mustang football team.
Not only did he excel in athletics but also he defied the statistic that diabetes contributes to high school drop-out rates.
In light of the disease and such statistics, many universities offer special accommodations for students with diabetes. These can include separate testing rooms, longer time limits and snack breaks.
However, Hansen does not use any testing accommodations and takes exams alongside his classmates.
“I guess I want to feel like everybody else,” he said.
The sentiment of wanting to fit in is normal for students with and without the chronic disease — especially during freshman year.
Christina Roth, a University of Massachusetts Amherst alumna and founder of the College Diabetes Network, said diabetic students can have a perfectly normal college experience.
“They are exactly the same as other students … but they have to plan a little bit more,” the 23-year-old said.
As a type 1 diabetic herself, Roth was frustrated by the lack of resources available at UMA. After speaking to a school nurse practitioner in 2009, she decided to take matters into her own hands and create a support group with other diabetic students.
Their first meeting lasted about three hours and made Roth realize she wasn’t alone. Because the school’s administration was apprehensive about publicizing the newfound organization, due to policies of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), she decided to create a website independent from the school.
Since its inception, the site has morphed into an information hub for students managing diabetes while in college. The chapter base has grown to more than 30 U.S. schools and a few in Canada.
“We provide tips for life in college with diabetes,” she said. “It’s the info they’d have available in their doctor’s office but in a way that speaks to them and makes sense to them.”
The network offers tips on everything from studying abroad to finding a job. It provides parents with care-package ideas and resources to connect with other parents.
“It all comes down to having a backup plan,” Roth said. “As long as students and their families have that covered, they can lead a normal life.”
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