Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Vivacious preteen refuses to let diabetes hold her back

By Michael Tsai


British Dawson can deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune -- although, seriously, how is it fair that an 11-year-old kid has to live with something as monumentally lame as diabetes?

What she could really do without are those darn finger pricks.

"It bothers me that I have holes in my finger," she says, "but it's just something that I have to live with."

Indeed, if there is one thing at which the sprightly UH Lab School student is adept, it's living with the hour-by-hour inconveniences of her condition.

There are kids her age who can't remember "pants before shoes" or where they left their gum. Not British. She is to vigilant what Lindsay Lohan is to ill-advised. Has to be. If British doesn't monitor her blood sugar, doesn't make sure her insulin levels are just right, doesn't correctly calibrate her food intake to her activity level, the consequences run along a grim continuum that starts with feeling lousy and ends in things no child should have to imagine.

British has type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed at 7, after her parents noticed she was losing weight, urinating excessively, behaving irritably and waking up thirsty.

A normal blood-sugar range before meals is between 70 and 110 milligrams per deciliter. For kids with diabetes, 80 to 180 ml/dl is acceptable. When British was diagnosed, her reading topped 800 ml/dl.

"It was really hard," mom Chelsey Dawson said of the diagnosis. "It was a blow."

It was also the necessary first step in making sure British grew up being able to do things "normal" kids could.

It wasn't easy. Before British was able to take her own readings and administer her own insulin shots, Chelsey would have to drive to her school at least a couple of times a day to do it for her.

These days, British does everything herself. She'll jab her own finger and test her own blood. She'll gauge how much food she has to eat to make sure she has enough energy for volleyball, soccer, basketball or dance class.

Classmates used to ask what the deal was with the diabetes thing. Was it contagious? How sick was she? British assured them it didn't have to be a big deal.

"I think of myself as a normal kid," she says. "Diabetes is something people can get, but you just have to learn to live with it."

Ah, that phrase again. In dealing with diabetes, British falls somewhere between Zeno and Nietzsche on the stoicism scale. Still, her idea of "living with it" has less to do with heroic endurance and more with living.

This weekend, British led a team of family and friends in raising $1,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's annual fundraising walk. When she grows up, she wants to be either a teacher or a pediatrician.

She figures she's done a pretty good job learning how to help herself. "Now I want to help other people," she says.


Reach Michael Tsai at

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