Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=164880
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9-year-old Brianna Irving loves McDonald’s and on Monday, she does not let diabetes rob her of that enjoyment.  


9-year-old: 'I love McDonald's Mondays'

by Jennifer M. Weaver
May 19, 2010


BRIANNA 2

Jennifer M. Weaver/MEDILL

9-year-old Brianna Irving counts all the carbs in her meal and uses a pump to regulate her insulin levels.

BRIANNA FAMILY

Jennifer M. Weaver/MEDILL

The Irvings: William Irving, Brianna Irving, Janice Irving. (left to right)

On one particularly dreary Monday, a mother and daughter filed through the door. Her pigtails, decorated in navy blue balls, 9-year-old Brianna Irving stared up at the menu with a mix of joy and restraint.

Dressed in a blue sweater and stretch blue pants, her demeanor reflected a sense of preparation, responsibility and wisdom beyond her years. 

She approached the McDonald’s counter at 87th street and Kedzie Ave. and ordered Chicken Selects, fries and a small drink.

This was a break between reading poetry at school and tracking sugar levels on her insulin pump.

What came next were a familiar set of calculations for the carbs in her meal: “12, 48, 23,” said Brianna. Her mother, Janice Irving, looked on, confident of Brianna’s accuracy.

With the logistics out of the way, she sat in a comfy leather chair reached into her bag, and bit into a few fries, “I love McDonald’s Monday,” she said as she opened a small white box of chicken strips, “It’s my favorite day of the week.”

McDonald’s is one of the most nostalgic experiences any child could have, and on Monday, Brianna does not let her condition rob her of that enjoyment. 

At age two, Briana was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a condition where the pancreas fails to produce the correct amount of insulin, a substance the body needs to convert food like carbs and sugar into energy.

“I remember my mom and dad telling me that when I was diagnosed with diabetes my blood sugar was 1,084,” she said.

Complications that can result include glaucoma, poor circulation, hypertension and  kidney disease.

“I learned that if I don’t have a pump, don’t take insulin or don’t take shots that it could kill me.” She said. “My sugar would go up very high, and sometimes during the night if I’m sleeping and that happens I won’t wake up.”

"But that’s never happened?

“No” she quickly replied.

Her weekly trip to the Golden Arches is one benefit of learning how to regulate her insulin through the pump clipped to the side of her hip. The device spurred questions from her classmates at Wrightwood charter school early on.

“'Is that a phone?' That’s all they would say,” said Brianna, “And I would just tell them it’s an insulin pump.”

Brianna’s pump is an electronic device that flows a continuous drip of insulin into her body through an injection site. A few of her injection sites are the hip, the arm or the thigh. 

“Every three days we’ll change the site,” said her father William Irving, “And her tummy also, she’s a little sensitive to her tummy, but we try to stay away from it.” 

Brianna is able to regulate her insulin by counting the carbs before she eats and entering the number into the pump, which uses a carb to insulin ratio to determine how much insulin needs to be injected to keep her sugar in a healthy range.

“We try to keep her between 80 and 160, that’s the target range.” said her dad.  “She knows how she feels, she can tell us if she feels dizzy, which will tell us that her sugar may be a little low or a little high.”

Before receiving her pump Brianna took daily Humalog insulin shots, which were far from her favorite, “It was fun to know that I have a pump and don’t have to take shots anymore,” Brianna said. 

Brianna, knows every command on the five-button pump, one for a correction, one for sugar, one for insulin, another for light, another for sound and one for the menu.  In a way, the pump is a mark of maturity for Brianna, having mastered the art of reading nutritional labels and understanding the seriousness of her condition. 

“I remember when I was younger every time I would catch a cold I would be in the hospital,” she said.

Diabetes and its complications is a disease familiar to the Irvings, already claiming the life of Brianna’s grandmother, her father’s mother. 

But fear is not a staple at their house in Ashburn, refusing to let constant worry over sugar levels deter Brianna’s growing imagination and active schedule. 

“She skates through the house, she flips, she plays basketball, she’s on the trampoline, she does gymnastics, you name it she does it,” said her mother, Janice Irving.

Her favorite color: “Pink.”

Favorite subject: “Math.”

She has put together a host of experiences she would like to accomplish as she gets older.

“I want to be a vet, a doctor, or a gymnast,” she says.

“Do you think you could be all three?”

“No,” she asserted.

The care she gets at the Chicago Children’s Diabetes Center in La Rabida Childrens Hospital, is what her parents said has helped to preserve her personality and joyful nature.

“I’ve never seen a depressed day, she’s been hospitalized and she’s just always upbeat, spirits are always high, the neighbors always say she's such a happy kid,” said  her mom, a project specialist at a Chicago organzation. 

“Dealing with the situations that she’s been faced with she’s done extremely well, and I would have to attribute that again to La Rabida,” said her dad, a treasurer at a Chicago company.  “They have a team that they work with, there’s a dietician, there’s a doctor, there’s all types of support and their just a phone call away from us if we don’t have the answer.”

Brianna, a small and vivacious little girl flashed an eloquent smile as she nestled between her mom and dad for their final picture.  A smile that doesn’t portray a suffering child, but a child who understands her condition doesn’t control her life, she controls it.