Grayson Erie loves school, playing with her best friends, singing, and dancing. While she enjoys spending quality time with her mom, Lilian, she is by all accounts a “daddy’s girl.” “Whether it’s playing Barbies, riding bikes, or swimming, whatever she wants to do, I’m down. I’ll even let her do my hair and makeup sometimes,” said Grayson’s dad, Chad. Grayson exudes all the spirit of a nine-year-old girl, filling the room with giggles and a dynamic spunk. Full of life and light, sometimes Grayson forgets her daily challenges living with Type 1 diabetes.
In 2019, unbeknownst to her parents, Grayson began showing early symptoms of childhood diabetes. These symptoms can be difficult to interpret and often confused with normal development in young children. Grayson’s mother began to notice Grayson’s oddly pale coloring and unexplained weight loss. Grayson, five years old at the time, naturally a happy-go-lucky child, began displaying mood swings. Lilian said, “It felt like we were going through the terrible twos again! She would get extremely aggravated very quickly and then suddenly back to normal.” Lilian didn’t think much of it in the beginning. Lilian’s mother had recently passed away. The Erie’s attributed Grayson’s out-of-character behavior as sadness and a typical childlike reaction to grief. It wasn’t until Grayson started suffering from multiple urinary tract infections that Lilian’s concerns began to grow.
On February 11th, 2019, the whole world changed for the Erie family. At a pediatrician appointment, Grayson’s labs detected that her sugar levels were extremely high. Her pediatrician quickly called LSU Ochsner’s pediatric diabetes physician and instructed Lilian to immediately get Grayson to the hospital. The medical team was waiting for Grayson when they arrived. Within a couple of hours, she was admitted into a room. Lilian and Chad, still trying to wrap their head around the words type 1 diabetes mellitus, were feeling sheer panic. Lilian reflects on that day, “I couldn’t fully process anything. My five-year-old was completely scared, sad, and, I’m pretty sure, mad from being held down and stuck with IVs and needles. I can remember asking the doctors, ‘Was this my fault? How could we have prevented this? Can I give her my pancreas?’ I felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt because, as parents, all we ever want is for our kids to be happy, safe, and healthy.” After several nights in the hospital, Grayson was discharged on February 13th. Valentine’s Day now holds a different meaning in the Erie home.
Lilian said, “After the shock kind of wore off, it was ‘go time,’ learning how to give shots, check her blood sugar, regulate her diet, and basically learn as much as we could from the nurses and doctors. One of my hardest conversations was having to explain to Grayson what this looked like for her going forward.”
Four years later, Grayson handles the physical side of her disease like a champion. The mental and emotional challenges of childhood diabetes are a bit tougher to tackle for a nine-year-old. As the years go by, Grayson seems to understand the long-term medical aspects of being a diabetic, yet explaining diabetes to her peers can be extremely difficult.
“I know how to manage my diabetes, but having kids ask me about it all the time is what is hard for me,” Grayson says. As Grayson and her “bestie,” Annie Hart, were playing on their matching tablets, Grayson looked up and stated, “It’s nice having close friends around that know all about it and understand it the way I do. Annie knows when I’m off, and she even understands how to help me when I’m high or low. She even knows what DCA [diabetic ketoacidosis] means and stands for!” Annie and Grayson have become thick as thieves in the past few years. Annie has learned Grayson’s highs and lows and plays her part to shield her from feeling down on the more challenging days.
Lilian is grateful, stating, “All of her friends have been wonderful. They have watched Grayson and gone through this process with her. They have been sensitive, compassionate, willing, and wanting to learn about it.” She also says, “Finding a friend and a family who are educated on diabetes and who knows the signs to watch for has been a huge blessing for Grayson. I encourage any family who has recently been diagnosed to educate your friends and your kid’s friends so that you feel comfortable being away from your child and know they are safe.”
Since Grayson’s diagnosis, many things have changed for the Erie family. Although Lilian still makes several trips to school to alleviate small complications, she is thankful for modern technology and advancements in diabetic monitoring. Grayson is able to wear a monitor and an insulin pump to keep her blood sugars level. This monitoring system also notifies Lilian if problems arise. These advancements make it easier for Grayson to continue living an active healthy childhood.
Like many children who suffer from type 1 diabetes, Grayson radiates courage and fortitude. Despite her challenges, Lilian said “The future for Grayson looks limitless, and we are super proud of her.” Grayson Erie may face daily obstacles with diabetes but her strength and spunky spirit will continue to win the battle.