By M. Scott Morris
BALDWYN – Lydia Benjamin doesn’t get excited about Halloween the way she once did.
She used to be committed to chocolate and all things sweet, but that’s changed for the 10-year-old.
Lydia has type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. Her body can’t break down food for energy without insulin from shots or the pump she wears. If not controlled, both high and low blood-glucose levels can lead to life-threatening complications.
So it’s understandable that candy has become a luxury item.
“And Oct. 30 is my birthday,” she said.
If that sounds like a complaint, it’s not a bad one, and she had a rueful smile when she said it.
Since being diagnosed about a year and a half ago, Lydia has adapted to her new reality, according to her grandmother, Marie Tyus, 56.
“She said one day that if somebody had to have it, at least it was her because she could handle it,” Tyus said.
“It’s difficult sometimes,” Lydia said.
“Some days are bad, some days are good,” said her mother, Amy Benjamin, 38.
In the days leading up to her diagnosis, Lydia had multiple doctors’ visits, but the problems persisted.
“I lost 16 to 20 pounds in a week,” Lydia recalled. “I drank a lot and slept a lot. I didn’t do nothing.”
Blood work finally revealed the answer, and she was rushed to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, where she was stabilized and taught to care for her illness.
“If you ever need a lesson on reading nutrition labels, here she is,” Amy Benjamin said. “Serving sizes? Carbs? She’s got it down.”
Lydia used to give herself multiple insulin shots a day, but her pump changed that.
“She’s just got to stick her finger 10 times a day to test her levels,” Amy Benjamin said.
Her control fluctuates. The fourth-grader sometimes must sit in the office at East Union School when her blood sugar changes. If she can’t get it leveled off or starts vomiting, that requires a trip to the emergency room for an IV.
“She’s getting used to it, but it’s hard for me to watch,” Amy Benjamin said. “She’s doing whatever she has to do to make it better.”
With luck, a helper will be on the way soon. She received grants from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Diabetes Association to help pay for a diabetes dog.
The family needs to raise a total of $9,000, but a $2,500 down payment will start Sydney the golden retriever’s training in Nevada. They need another $1,250 to reach that goal.
Packets of Lydia’s frozen spit have been flown across the country to be ready for Sydney’s training.
“At night, 30 minutes before I have a high or low, he will wake me up,” Lydia said. “In the daytime, 30 minutes before I go high or low, he will scratch my leg.”
Getting a diabetes dog is exciting and it certainly focuses Lydia’s attention. But she’s also a kid, and Halloween is approaching. There will be some treats.
“We can have a piece of candy every day,” her mother said. “It will last all year.”