Student teaches others how to cope with diabetes

Cameron Gellman


November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Type 1 diabetes is a disorder of the body’s immune system, and is generally diagnosed in children, teenagers or young adults. There is no cure.

Diagnosed in late 2011, Cameron Gellman, 14, now knows a great deal about diabetes. Grateful for the help he and his family received from the Greater Missouri and Southern Illinois Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation when he was first diagnosed, Cameron raised $2,800 for the JDRF Walk early in October and he plans to be involved in JDRF future activities as well.

Powered by grassroots volunteers, JDRF is the leading global organization focused on type 1 diabetes research. The warning signs of type 1 diabetes include extreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, sudden vision changes, increased appetite, sudden weight loss, a fruity or sweet odor on the breath, heavy or labored breathing, stupor and unconsciousness.

“Diabetes can be deadly – but it’s very manageable if you take care of it,” Cameron said. “Now it  means something to me to help other people manage. You can’t run away from this, because it’s not safe to ignore diabetes, but people have many misconceptions about it.”

Cameron and his family are members at Central Reform Congregation. He made time recently to talk about his disease and how he manages it.

When were you first diagnosed?

I was diagnosed in December 2011. One day my mom walked in just after I’d had a shower, and she was amazed at how thin I looked. I weighed 135 pounds at the time, and three weeks later, I was down to 112.

What happened next?

I had some blood work done. After I got dressed for school the next morning, my parents were sitting at the breakfast table, looking at me weirdly. They told me we had to go to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, that the doctor thought I might have diabetes.

How did that feel?

That alarmed me. It was a foreign idea. I had always been a healthy, fit kid. Still, I knew for the past four to six months I really hadn’t been myself at all.

How so?

I wasn’t able to sleep, I couldn’t focus at school, had no energy– I just didn’t feel right.

What happened next?

At the hospital, they checked my blood sugar again. The average reading should be between 60 and 120, and mine was in the 790s. When you hit 800, you go in a coma, so we were just in time.

How long were you in the hospital?

They kept me there a week, and I was learning so much about everything so quickly. In the first 48 hours, they told me I would have to inject myself four times a day and check my blood sugar six times a day.

How did you react?

It was scary, very emotional, for my whole family, but everyone was very supportive. We had a lot of discussions about how to make this work. Everyone from JDRF and at the hospital was so patient, so compassionate. Finally, I just said to myself that I would make dealing with diabetes the smallest part of my day as I possibly could.

So you decided not to let the disease define you, and move forward?

Exactly. Now with JDRF, I’m walking and I’m talking, and I have done a couple of events with the hospital and different charity events. I’m putting myself out there.

Obviously, you are you comfortable talking in front of people. Why is that?

I’ve been interested in theater since I could talk. It’s always been a passion, but for a long time I was a hardcore athlete, playing everything, and the arts were a side note. Then I got injured in 2010 and had surgery, similar to the Tommy John surgery that baseball players have. The diabetes has greatly set back the healing process.

So now you have turned more of your attention to theater?

Yes. I spent the summer in Los Angeles in an intensive acting program. I’m taking acting classes, and I’ve done a commercial or two and some readings. I signed on with an agent in Missouri and plan to sign up in the future with agencies in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Meanwhile, have you adjusted to the regimen that keeps your diabetes under control?

The self-care is routine now, and it’s going very well. I feel like a different person.

   ‘Healthwatch’  runs the third week of every month and includes a Q&A with a local Jewish health or fitness professional.  Have a suggestion for possible Healthwatch subjects? Email [email protected].