Mother and daugh­ter Jen­nifer and Emily Mittleman of Wood­cliff Lake learned to thrive and lead happy and ac­tive lives while man­ag­ing their dis­ease

Jen­nifer Mittleman was 11 years old when she was di­ag­nosed with Type 1 di­a­betes. Pre­vi­ously known as ju­ve­nile di­a­betes, Type 1 oc­curs when the im­mune sys­tem de­stroys beta cells in the pan­creas, which pro­duce in­sulin. She re­mem­bers be­ing hos­pi­tal­ized for two weeks and prac­tic­ing giv­ing shots to an orange, so that she would be able to give her­self in­sulin shots.

“Peo­ple did not know as much about the dis­ease back then,” Mittleman says. “I was not un­der good con­trol when I was younger.”

That changed when she was 16 and met Alan, who is now her hus­band. His fa­ther was a Type 1 di­a­betic, and he taught her how to take bet­ter care of her­self and to mon­i­tor her blood sugar more fre­quently. Even­tu­ally, when Mittleman was in her 20s, an en­docri­nol­o­gist rec­om­mended that she start us­ing a pump, which of­fered much greater flex­i­bil­ity. With a pump, there was no need to fol­low a strict sched­ule for eat­ing, ac­tiv­ity and in­sulin in­jec­tions.

When Mittleman be­came preg­nant, she be­came in­cred­i­bly vig­i­lant, test­ing her blood sugar lev­els 12 times a day. Although her lev­els were great, her preg­nan­cies were com­pli­cated. She was re­lieved and thrilled that her ba­bies were “born as healthy as can be.” That be­ing said, Mittleman mon­i­tored her chil­dren for signs of the dis­ease, which has a ge­netic com­po­nent.

Her son, Jor­dan, 17, does not have Type 1 di­a­betes, but when her daugh­ter, Emily, was 11, Mittleman di­ag­nosed her with the dis­ease.

“The doctors at Hackensack [Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter] were amazed that I di­ag­nosed her my­self at such an early stage –

LIFE­LONG DI­AG­NO­SIS Jen­nifer Mittleman rec­og­nized that her daugh­ter, Emily, also had Type 1 di­a­betes when she was just 11 and the dis­ease was still de­vel­op­ing.

she was in the hon­ey­moon phase, and her pan­creas was still pro­duc­ing in­sulin,” Mittleman says. “The doctors ad­vised her to start us­ing a sen­sor, and I went on the sen­sor at the same time.”

The “sen­sor” is a con­tin­u­ous glu­cose mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem that mea­sures glu­cose lev­els in real-time through­out the day and night. A tiny elec­trode is in­serted un­der the skin, and that mea­sures glu­cose lev­els in tis­sue fluid. The elec­trode is con­nected to a trans­mit­ter that sends the in­for­ma­tion to a mon­i­tor­ing and dis­play de­vice.

How did Emily re­act to her di­ag­no­sis? “She didn’t bat an eye,” marvels Mittleman.

She was di­ag­nosed in March. In June, it was de­ter­mined that she needed some in­sulin.

“She went on the pump, and two weeks later, she headed off for seven weeks of sum­mer camp by her­self,” Mittleman says. “I made her prac­tice chang­ing the pump six times the night be­fore she left. I asked her, ‘Do you feel com­fort­able?’ She an­swered, ‘Of course I do.’”

From the be­gin­ning, Emily took con­trol of her di­a­betes.

“Af­ter I went to some doctors and they ex­plained to me what was go­ing on, I got very in­ter­ested in di­a­betes. I had seen pictures of what hap­pens to peo­ple when they don’t take care of their di­a­betes, and I re­ally did not want that to hap­pen to me,” Emily says. “Right when I was di­ag­nosed, I tested my blood sugar five times a day and I tried to not eat too many carbs. I re­mem­ber hav­ing all the doctors tell me what a dili­gent di­a­betic I was.”

Emily is an ac­com­plished ath­lete – play­ing var­sity bas­ket­ball as a fresh­man at Dwight-En­gle­wood. The fam­ily also lived in Florida for a year while Emily trained at a high-per­for­mance ten­nis academy. She still plays ten­nis sev­eral times a week, of­ten af­ter prac­tice for what­ever team sport is in sea­son. In ad­di­tion, Emily com­petes in track and is an avid skier.

Although ex­er­cise has tremen­dous ben­e­fits for those with di­a­betes (as well as al­most ev­ery­one else), it can be slightly more com­pli­cated for a young ath­lete who has to con­stantly mon­i­tor their blood sugar level. How­ever, Emily, not sur­pris­ingly given her op­ti­mistic and ad­ven­tur­ous na­ture, has man­aged to look on the bright side.

“There are some dis­ad­van­tages to hav­ing di­a­betes and play­ing sports be­cause I don’t like hav­ing spe­cial ac­com­mo­da­tions made to me. When­ever my blood sugar gets too high or too low, I have to sit out from the sport I’m play­ing,” Emily says. “At the same time, there are ad­van­tages too. I have re­al­ized through­out the years that when I ex­er­cise, my blood sug­ars be­come much bet­ter and more con­trolled. Also, I have faced lots of ob­sta­cles with di­a­betes which has taught me lots of lessons, like how to cope bet­ter with stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, and I im­ple­ment those lessons I have learned into sports.”

The mother and daugh­ter duo rely on each other. “If we ab­so­lutely had to, we could share a pump,” Mittleman says.

The pump and the sen­sor have made man­ag­ing di­a­betes eas­ier for both mother and daugh­ter, and tech­nol­ogy is al­ways evolv­ing. “We just got con­nected to CareLink, an app which dis­plays the blood sug­ars on my phone,” Mittleman says. “I can send it to the doc­tor from my phone.”

Still, Mittleman says she is filled with “amaze­ment and awe” at see­ing how her daugh­ter has taken the dis­ease in stride.

The fam­ily is ac­tive in the JDRF (for­merly known as the Ju­ve­nile Di­a­betes Re­search Foun­da­tion), and Emily par­tic­i­pates in its fash­ion shows, which raises money for the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The first show was a turn­ing point for Emily.

“I re­mem­ber stand­ing in the dress­ing room with 15 other girls all rush­ing to get ready, and at one point ev­ery­one was try­ing to fig­ure out where to put their pump so you can’t see it through their dress,” Emily says. “This was the first time all the girls with me were try­ing to fig­ure this out, con­sid­er­ing all of my other friends don’t have to worry about this. I felt like I be­longed with ev­ery­one in that room, be­cause at one point or an­other, we’ve all ex­pe­ri­enced the same prob­lems with di­a­betes.”

Mittleman notes that even her son “is in tune with the symp­toms of low blood sugar,” and has been known to bring her a glass of juice if he no­tices she needs it. While their abil­ity to flour­ish is not be­cause of the dis­ease, it is surely in spite of it, and they are an in­spi­ra­tion to oth­ers.

Emily has ad­vice for other young peo­ple di­ag­nosed with Type 1 di­a­betes: “It’s not the end of the world. You hear the doctors say­ing all of the things you can’t do now – like you can’t eat what­ever you want, you can’t ex­er­cise with­out con­stantly check­ing your blood sugar, and more. But you can han­dle this. You have your par­ents to help you, but you have to re­mem­ber that at the end of the day, it’s go­ing to be you that you de­pend most on. You’re the one that is go­ing to be test­ing your blood sugar five times a day. You’re the one who has to want to be a good di­a­betic. Not your par­ents, not your doctors – you. They are al­ways go­ing to be there to help you out, but you’re the one that is most im­por­tant in con­trol­ling your di­a­betes.”


GO­ING STRONG Emily Mit­tle­man hasn’t let Type 1 di­a­betes stop her from play­ing a va­ri­ety of sports at a high level, in­clud­ing tennis.

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