Life at times a balancing act for teen with diabetes

At 5:45 every morning, Jordan Exber, a junior at Bishop Gorman High School, sleeps through her alarm clock.

To get to school on time, she needs to leave the house at 7 a.m., which usually means rushing out the door. But before she can get into her car, Exber needs to test her blood sugar level, because if she drives while it is low, it is as bad as driving drunk.

Exber is one of the 3 million Americans living with Type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that is necessary to convert sugars consumed through food into energy. Without insulin, these sugars build up in the bloodstream because the body cannot absorb them. The body, then, does not receive the energy or nutrition it needs.

Type 1 diabetes, which more commonly occurs in children and young adults, happens when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin because the immune system attacks the organ. More than 15,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with the disease every year.

To survive, patients with diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar, inject themselves with insulin and follow a strict diet.

Exber was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13. At a routine doctor's appointment, she was tested for diabetes because her mother believed she had been exhibiting some of the symptoms. When the doctor came back with the test results, he explained that Exber's blood sugar levels were so high that they weren't even reading on the meter and that there was a 99 percent chance that she had diabetes.

She spent the next three days in the hospital, where she was taught how to test her blood by pricking her finger and give herself insulin shots. But when Exber returned home, she realized that this disease would be much more difficult to handle outside of a controlled environment.

"I felt so alone. I kept thinking, 'How am I going to live the rest of my life with this disease?' " Exber says.

Exber needs to prick her finger to test her blood six to eight times a day and inject herself with insulin six to 10 times a day.

At first, Exber says, she cried every time she had to give herself a shot, and her mom came to school every day for the first month to help her. "But then I realized that we couldn't do that forever, and I just had to get used to it. Now, it's second nature for me," she says.

Now, three years after being diagnosed, Exber mainly spends her days at school just as any other student would, though there are some special circumstances.

"I go to the nurse once or twice every day, and I'm not allowed to take tests if my blood sugar is high or low because my mind is impaired and I can't think straight," Exber says.

Exber also faces challenges when it comes to her peers.

"People don't usually know what diabetes is, and they say things like, 'She has it because she eats a lot of sugar,' " she says. "Other people get freaked out by it, especially when I have to give myself a shot."

Though at times it is difficult for her to control her sugar levels, especially while balancing school and her social life, Exber says she's confident she'll be able to accomplish the same things as people without the disease.

"When someone achieves something really great or important, I think, 'I can do that -- but I can do it with diabetes.' "