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Students with diabetes adjust to college life

Editor-in-Chief

Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011

Updated: Monday, February 14, 2011 14:02

Central Florida Future

Emre Kelly

Marcus Steverson and Jeanette Bustillo, both Type 1 diabetics, are students at UCF. Insulin pumps can be seen on their hips.


On weekdays, Jeanette Bustillo leaves her dorm room in the Towers and walks to class, confident she'll be ready for the day's challenges. Like any other student, she enjoys movies and music in her spare time.

Her boyfriend, Marcus Steverson, also leaves his apartment at Knights Circle and makes sure that he's packed the appropriate supplies for an extended amount of time away from home. He's looked into police and governmental options as post-graduation plans.

An acquaintance of theirs, Tremayne Sirmons, drives 30 minutes to campus to attend education classes, hoping to become a drafting teacher for industrial and technical designs.

These three individuals — ordinary, everyday UCF students — all share a parallel path. It becomes a unifying factor from the beginning until the end of each day: All three have Type 1 diabetes.

"I feel like it makes [being a student] a little bit harder because I feel like I'm juggling a lot," Sirmons said. "It makes me feel more determined because I know I've got all of this going on and it makes me want to try a bit harder."

Sirmons, a senior education major, isn't the only one with this condition. According to the American Diabetes association, 1 in 400 children and adolescents have Type 1 diabetes.

According to the ADA, Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body's pancreas does not produce insulin. While genetics are believed to play a role, the ADA lists two factors leading to its cause. One must inherit a predisposition to the disease and something in the environment must trigger diabetes.

Insulin, a natural hormone, is used to convert carbohydrates such as sugar and starches into glucose. Glucose is the fuel source for the body's cellular activities.

Only 5 percent of all diabetes cases are Type 1, according to the ADA. This differs from Type 2, which is the most common form of diabetes.

The ADA describes Type 2 as the most common form of diabetes. In this form, the body has built a resistance to the insulin produced by the pancreas or there is not enough insulin produced.

Because their bodies do not naturally produce insulin, people with Type 1 require an outside source of insulin. The most popular long-term solution is the use of an insulin pump.

Insulin pumps can be difficult to spot for most people.

"I usually just clip in into my pocket and a lot of people ask me why I have a pager," said Steverson, a sophomore legal studies major. "Then they see the little tube coming out of it and they realize that it's something else."

Insulin pumps are pager-sized devices that are constantly attached to the body via a tube and pump site. On the pump site rests an infusion set, which is a patch that adheres to the skin. The infusion set also has a small, needle-like device, which goes below the surface of the skin to inject insulin into the body.

Pump sites can be changed, but the most common sites are the upper and inner thighs, rear end and lower back. Pumps can be attached to belts, put in pockets or placed in other secure areas.

Bustillo, Steverson and Sirmons all share similar experiences with their pumps and perceptions of other students.

"When they see you take it out because it beeps, some say ‘Man, that's an old school pager," Sirmons said. "I've just grown to live with it, but it's just my electronic pancreas."

Students with Type 1 at UCF face the same trials as the rest of the student body — late-night studying sessions, varied meal times and rapidly fluctuating schedules as semesters change.

For Bustillo, Steverson and Tremayne, finding regularity isn't a difficult task, as they have been working with their conditions for so long.

Stress can adversely affect blood sugar levels, which has to be monitored several times per day with a blood sugar monitor. Eyesight can be affected and sometimes permanent damage can result, according to the ADA.

"Some mornings, I wake up and my blood sugar has affected my eyesight," Bustillo said. "Some days, it's just hard to see things for a while."

Bustillo, a sophomore radio and television major, explained that these changes to eyesight can make it difficult to go to class, but missing work is not something that she's prone to doing, even with her condition.

Both Bustillo and Steverson were diagnosed at a young age, but Sirmons wasn't diagnosed until he was 24 years old, which was two years ago.

"It was rough and for the first month, I didn't eat chips, cookies or anything that wasn't salad or meat," Sirmons said. "I finally had my first Snickers in two years and it was so good."

All three students agree that as time with their condition has progressed, it's become something that they live with.  Many of the daily routines required to stay healthy have become automated.

When discussing how he remembers to take blood sugar tests, Steverson said that it was something that he does almost as an involuntary act.

"It's something I have to do, so I just go ahead and do it," Steverson said.

Though many of their insulin-related actions might be involuntary, students have difficulties keeping track of detailed statistics or making changes to the program on their own.

The Type I group at UCF, which was recently created by Student Health Services in Sept. 2010, currently has about 50 members on paper and 30 who regularly attend the once-monthly meetings.

Michael Cronyn of UCF Health Services helps to spearhead the Type I group.

"The biggest challenge is to be able to find the time to devote to the diabetes management part of it," Cronyn said. "A lot of these young students sometimes end up dropping out of school due to the sugars being really out of control."

Cronyn explained that UCF's program offers both an educational and social part of its program, allowing its members with Type 1 to more easily manage their condition and keep up with their health.

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