When she was just 11 months old, Shannon Knowski was diagnosed with diabetes.
She had been wetting her diapers, suffering from eczema rashes and ear infections — all signs of diabetes — but also symptoms that can easily be diagnosed as a something else.
"We had all these reasons for everything happening," said Pat Knowski, Shannon's mom. "They tried everything … we just kept trying all these different techniques (to deal with the problems)."
But that all changed when Shannon came down with what Pat thought was just a cold or maybe the flu. It was a Tuesday, Pat remembers. By 3 a.m. Thursday, the 11-month-old was in the hospital, unresponsive with a blood sugar level of 788.
The normal level is between 70 to 120.
"As soon as they got her numbers under control, within a week … her eczema was gone and she's never had it again," Pat said. "So, I think she was prediabetic, but nobody tests babies."
Now, Shannon, 9, is comfortably living with her diabetes. She, along with her family, has raised about $35,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation since 2004 — more than $4,000 each year.
Breaking diabetes down
Pat said a big concern for the family is the confusion that a lot of people have between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
"We want people to know, there’s such a misconception I think … because people get Type 1 and Type 2 mixed up," Pat said. "There’s a lot of misconceptions out there — (Shannon) can each what she wants, she just has to have insulin to cover it."
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is an organization whose research focuses on finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes.
"Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person's pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food," the group's website say. "While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved."
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is the most common type, according to the American Diabetes Association. "In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin."
Type 2 diabetes was formerly referred to as adult-onset diabetes. It is often associated with obesity, older age, a family history of diabetes, physical inactivity and ethnicity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Living with the disease
Shannon talks about her daily routine as if she is no different from the child next to her: blood sugar level and insulin have become routine topics of conversation.
She tests before getting out of bed, and then she takes insulin before eating to help with her average blood sugar level, Pat said. At school, she tests at snack and recess times as well as lunch.
She then tests before dinner and before bed. Pat wakes up in the middle of the night to test her levels and monitor her status.
"It just kind of becomes routine, but it really is … its 24/7 you can’t take a break," Pat said. Plus, when Shannon becomes sick — it's time to pay extra attention.
"You're high, and then low — and then you're high and then you're low," Shannon said.
"We’ve been fortunate … because I know a lot of people like with the flu, they do end up having to go to the hospital … and this was the first year we had to take her," Pat said.
But despite having this condition that requires a lot of attention, both Pat and Shannon said it doesn't slow her or the family down.
Shannon has two older bothers, ages 13 and 15, and Pat said both boys are good at being aware of their sister's situation, noticing when her sugar level might be low.
"There is an upside to having diabetes, you make a lot of friends who have diabetes … and you get to be an ambassador," Shannon said.
Shannon and her family have become highly involved in spreading the word about diabetes and raising money for the cause.
They are volunteers for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Pat is the co-chair for the Walk to Cure Diabetes event held Sept. 15 in Milwaukee by the foundation.
They are also involved with organizing Caps for a Cure locally, an event that this year raised $300 at .
"We wanted to try to get the school involved in something because there have been a couple children before (Shannon) with diabetes … and I was looking through different pamphlets and found this one (about Caps for a Cure) and, at the time, Eric Burke was the principal and he went right on board right away," Pat said.
Shannon often speaks in front classrooms about diabetes, explaining her test kit to kids and talking about dealing with the condition.
Shannon will also be hosting a lemonade stand on July 7, as part of a fundraiser put on by , 181 S. Foster Drive, Saukville, for JDRF.
The event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a $25 donation gets you a free oil change; appointments can be made ahead of time by calling 262-284-5851. They will also be selling brats, hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and cookies as well as hosting a same-day raffle.
And while Shannon's diagnosis with diabetes has given them a cause to support, Pat said she's also been impressed with the network of support that's built around their family.
"Its amazing through (online support groups), you have this connection because of our kids … those of us who have been together for the eight years — it's kind of a family. … And then my friends here who are willing to learn, (and) school has been wonderful," she said.