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Teens with Type 1 Diabetes Share Experiences in Group Run by UB Medical Students

Released: 4/8/2014

With 100 new type 1 diabetes cases being diagnosed annually in Western New York, D-Link helps adolescents and young adults deal with the disease

Adolescence is stressful enough. But going through it with a chronic disease that requires multiple daily injections and finger pricks as well as a fair amount of mental math is asking a lot of the average teen.
With 100 new cases of type 1 diabetes being diagnosed on average every year in Western New York, an increasing number of teens in this community are dealing with the disease.
“While most teens were diagnosed when they were younger, the developmental complexities of adolescence may change the way they deal with their disease,” says Lucy Mastrandrea, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics at the UB and attending physician in endocrinology at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. “They may pay less attention to figuring out how much insulin they need based on the carbohydrates they ate. Sometimes, they really do not want to have to deal with the disease and how different diabetes makes them from their peers.”
That’s why many of them are so thankful for D-link, a Western New York support group for type 1 diabetic teens. It was founded in 2006 by students from the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“Being a teen is stressful enough,” says Ellyn Smith, a fourth-year UB medical student and Jamestown native, now a senior facilitator with D-link. “It’s nice that these teens with type 1 diabetes have an environment where they can talk about what it’s like with each other.”
D-link holds meetings twice a month at locations around Western New York.  It is open to any type 1 diabetic, aged 12 to 21. Most of those who attend are cared for at the Women and Children’s Hospital Diabetes Center, the only tertiary care center providing care to children with diabetes in Western New York. The group also hosts regular field trips to sports events and organizes recreational outings for members and their friends.
Jim Schuler, a University at Buffalo senior and a Lockport native, started attending D-link meetings in 2009. Now he’s a facilitator, helping UB medical students run the meetings that deal with all aspects of life with diabetes and adolescence.
 Schuler doesn’t mince words about what it means to go through adolescence with diabetes. “It sucks,” says Schuler, grinning nonetheless. “It can be grinding, it doesn’t go away.”
It can also be very isolating, he adds, noting that even family members can’t relate to a diabetic the way that others can who have the disease.
“I could tell a relative that my blood sugar was through the roof this morning, but they don’t really know what that means,” he says. “But if I tell someone who has diabetes, they know exactly what it means, physically. That’s what D-link offers: it lets you know there are other people out there who have gone through it and who can help you through it, so your isolation doesn’t get you down.”
The group also functions as a way for UB’s medical students to better understand what having a chronic disease is like, especially for a teenager. The medical students are expected to keep up with research in type 1 diabetes, and they hold regular journal club meetings.
D-Link also holds an annual research presentation and dinner for members and their families with an endocrinologist who discusses new advances in type 1 diabetes.
“It’s really inspiring what these medical students do in running the group and also how the members themselves help each other out,” says Mastrandrea, the group’s faculty advisor. “From the first year the students arrive at medical school, they really are doing much more than sitting in a classroom. They’re doing a great service for our community.”
D-Link is open to any type 1 diabetic aged 12 to 21, living in any of the eight counties of Western York. For more information or to become a member, contact Jim Schuler and the other facilitators at or ask for information about D-Link at the Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo Diabetes-Endocrine clinic, (716) 878-7262. 
Article submitted by Ellen Goldbaum, Senior Medical Editor, University at Buffalo, Office of University Communications.