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Strong Stella raising awareness for juvenile diabetes

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By Jessie Wagoner


Jessica Zimmerling and Dalton Rader of Lindsborg are now home with their one-year-old daughter Stella and her older siblings. Just a few short weeks ago, the normalcy of being home together seemed impossible as young Stella was fighting for her life.

Stella, typically a happy, healthy baby, began to show signs of not feeling well on May 15. She was fussy and just not quite herself. Having just celebrated her first birthday the week before, her parents attributed the change in mood to teething. But by May 16, it was obvious to them that something more was going on. 

“Sunday, she started acting not like herself at all,” Zimmerling said. “She was whiny and gagging. She stopped eating, so Sunday night we took her to E.R. in Salina. She was just so lethargic, not herself at all.” 

The hospital sent Stella home with a diagnosis of stomach flu. Monday morning, she still showed no signs of improvement. In fact, she was now pale and lethargic, hardly moving. With older children and plenty of experience with stomach flu, Zimmerling didn’t feel confident that was all Stella was battling. They made a return trip to the E.R. and demanded more testing. 

“They checked her blood sugar, and on the meter they were using, all it said was high,” Zimmerling said. “So they ran it in the lab and it came back at 1800; they couldn’t believe that was right so they checked it again, and it was 1823.” 

Stella and Zimmerling were quickly transferred to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where doctors were shocked Stella was still alive. They had never seen a child with a blood sugar so high. By the time Stella arrived at the hospital in Wichita, she was unresponsive and had swelling on her brain. 

“She had a whole team of doctors, and they started her on an insulin drip,” Zimmerling said. “She had swelling on her brain and her whole head was swollen; her kidneys shut down, and her sodium level was very high.” 

Stella remained unresponsive for 14 hours, finally beginning to open her eyes and move some by Tuesday night. She made enough improvement to get off the IV by Wednesday. With the direction of the doctors and dietitians, Zimmerling and Rader began to learn how to manage Stella’s diabetes so she could go home.

“She is more and more like herself every day,” Zimmerling said. “At first she was pretty sad and confused about the shots, but now she is adjusting. The hardest part is that she can’t talk about how she is feeling and tell us if she feels bad or not.” 

Now that the family is home, they are managing Stella’s diabetes with the help of a continuous glucose monitor and insulin injections. The continuous monitor will alarm to let them know if Stella’s blood sugar has gone too low or too high so they can make modifications. Since Stella is so young, the continuous glucose monitor is key, as young children metabolize food and sugar faster than adults.

“This is just something she is going to grow up with,” Zimmerling said. “She won’t know any different; this will just be a part of her everyday life.” 

Since returning home, it has also become a priority to the family to educate others about juvenile diabetes. Zimmerling admits that even as a mom of four children who has encountered many illnesses and ailments, she never considered diabetes was causing Stella’s health problems. In hindsight, she wishes she would have known what to look for and she hopes others parents can learn from their experiences. 

“I never thought of diabetes,” Zimmerling said. “It is so important for people to know the symptoms.” 

Signs and symptoms of juvenile diabetes include: 

  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Slow healing cuts
  • Unexplained weight loss 


Signs of high blood sugar include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Lack of energy, lethargic
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain
  • Fruity breath odor


“We will do anything we can to raise awareness and hopefully help other families,” Zimmerling said. “It is a miracle that we got her to the hospital on time and she came back and doesn’t have any long-term effects. We are very blessed to still have her here with us.”