Diabetes Awareness Month: Makenna's Story

November 20, 2017

In April of this year, the Miller family’s life was changed forever when Jessica and Joe’s six year old daughter Makenna was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. As if the diagnosis wasn’t hard enough, the Millers had to face an onset of challenges in the months ahead. They were left wondering how their daughter would handle the diagnosis, how they would learn to care for her, and if she would be okay when not in their care.

Makenna started showing the classic symptoms of diabetes: excessive thirst, frequent trips to the bathroom, and extreme tiredness but with no family history of diabetes, the Millers thought it was just another childhood virus.  Once doctors diagnosed Makenna with diabetes, she spent three days in the pediatric ICU followed by two days at Carilion Children’s Hospital until her blood sugar levels were lowered and more stable.

“I was more scared taking Makenna home from the hospital this time around than I was when she was a newborn,” said Makenna’s mother, Jessica Miller.

After returning home from the hospital, the Millers started to face challenges finding someone to care for their daughter outside of school hours. Makenna was taking insulin shots and most child care facilities in the area did not have a staff member with the proper medical training to administer the insulin.

“My husband and I were stunned that there were such limited resources in the Roanoke area for working parents caring for a diabetic child,” said Miller. Even worse, our daughter was left dealing with what all this meant. One day she was in an after school program playing with her friends, the next, she was not allowed. Trying to explain to a six year old why she could no longer be with her friends was very difficult as a parent. She was left feeling like she had done something wrong.” 

In search of camp options for Makenna over the summer, and with the help of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the Millers approached the Kirk Family YMCA in Downtown Roanoke.

“When the Millers first came to us we had a lot to learn about caring for a child with diabetes,” said Mark Johnson President and CEO of YMCA of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. We had a lot to learn in a very short period of time, but after meeting Makenna and her family we knew it was the right thing to do not only for her, but for other families in our community,” said Johnson.

The Kirk Family YMCA made arrangements for three of their employees to take a multiple day course in Medication Administration Training (MAT) with a specific concentration in diabetes administration. Makenna started camp at the Y in July and the family plans for her to return again next summer.

“Although it has been a tough road, we are hopeful that we were able to help pave the path for other parents that are in a similar situation,” said Miller. “We are grateful that the Kirk Family YMCA was able to provide Makenna with an amazing camp experience among her peers while providing our family with peace of mind knowing she was safe.”

As part of maintaining her diabetes, Makenna’s finger is pricked up to eight times daily and she is given several insulin shots throughout the day. 

“What amazes me most is that Makenna never complains,” said Miller. Her positive outlook on life is just like her shirt says: Is that all you got?”