June 1, 2017 8:01 pm
Updated: June 1, 2017 10:44 pm

Alberta doctors pushing for in-school support for students with diabetes: ‘Make sure these kids are safe’

WATCH ABOVE: Medical residents in Alberta have teamed up with Diabetes Canada to send the province a message: students with type 1 diabetes need more support at Alberta schools. Su-Ling Goh reports.

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Gabriela Holko was four years old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. A few months later, her mother had to send her to kindergarten to manage her blood sugars on her own.

“I was in the hallway a lot,” Jacquie Holko said. “People actually thought I worked (at the school) for a while because I was here so often.”

Edmonton’s St. Basil School teamed Gabriela up with an educational assistant to help monitor and track her blood-glucose levels and to report to her parents every day.

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But not every student is so lucky.

“There should be people with extra training around, to make sure these kids are safe,” said Dr. Tara McGrath of the University of Alberta.

Pediatric residents in Edmonton and Calgary have partnered with Diabetes Canada to push for a province-wide policy on diabetes in schools. Right now, some Alberta schools offer no support, leaving parents with all the responsibility.

McGrath says that’s not only tough on families, it’s dangerous.

“Sometimes, without any symptoms, (a diabetic person) can go into a low or a high, and this can cause (them) to lose consciousness,” the pediatric resident said.

A lack of control over blood sugars can also have serious long-term consequences, including blindness and kidney disease.

Diabetes Canada met with a representative from Alberta’s ministry of education in May. At minimum, they want to see an individual care plan for each student with diabetes, including details on medication times, target blood sugar range and emergency procedures.

They also recommend daily communication with parents and annual diabetes training for school staff.

St. Basil School has already adopted most of those guidelines.

“Sometimes, for a teacher, if that’s their very first diabetic child in (the classroom), that can be quite scary,” principal Elana Simington said.

“So we try and make that as normal as possible… providing as much support as needed.”

The group has asked for a mandatory provincial standard of care by January 2018.

Currently, only British Columbia, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have formal policies on the subject.

A representative for Education Minister David Eggen emailed the following statement to Global News about the matter:

“Our government is listening to parents, students and teachers to ensure all students have the best possible learning conditions for each and every student, including those with diabetes. We need to keep working with teachers and parents to get it right when supporting students with diabetes. My office met with representatives of Diabetes Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society and we want you to know we are actively looking at ways to make life better for students with diabetes. Earlier this year, we were pleased to add a line to Diabetes at School to the resources available online on Alberta Education’s website.”

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