Attacking diabetes

Coeur d'Alene boy, 9, invents own way to test his blood sugar level

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Carson Magee, who has type 1 diabetes, invented a test strip for a science fair project that makes it easier to test his blood sugar. The third grader recently unicycled a three-mile walk to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

For Carson Magee, getting the flu is a bit of a bonus.

It means his blood sugar drops, affecting his insulin level, necessitating he boost his sugar with the most obvious and heavenly of tools: Candy.

And slurping on a candy cane isn't something Carson is as entitled to as most third-graders.

"Chocolate chip cookies," he dubbed after some thought as his most-missed snack since he was diagnosed two years ago with Type 1 diabetes.

But missing treats is a small matter.

At least compared to the innovation and charity Carson has pursued since hearing the heavy news of a lifelong disease. The Ramsey Elementary student has embraced his condition by chasing ideas to abate its effects, like inventing an easier device for testing blood sugar, and unicycling through a diabetes fundraiser walk.

"Sometimes it's hard, but sometimes it's good," the 9-year-old said. "I know God has a plan for me."

The boy expels information about his disease with nonchalance - how his stomach is the best place to inject insulin so he doesn't bruise. How he could fall into a diabetic coma if he doesn't inject enough insulin several times a day.

He has the easy adaptiveness of childhood, accepting that every novel experience is simply the way things are.

His mother Fondra looks at it from a broader perspective, though.

"The hard part is you're grieving. Your son has a disease there's no cure for," said the Coeur d'Alene mother, who often measures her son's blood sugar at 2 a.m. to ensure it doesn't fall too low while he sleeps. "He really takes it all in stride. He really has amazed us."

She had no idea in 2010 that it was an ominous sign, how constantly thirsty Carson was. But when she mentioned it to their pediatrician during a visit, the doctor figured it warranted checking the then 7-year-old's blood sugar level.

It measured at 400. A healthy level is between 70 and 120.

"(The doctor) came in with these big tears in his eyes. He said, 'Go home, pack your bags, we're going to the hospital,'" Fondra remembered. "(I was) in shock, really."

With the diagnosis came a tsunami of information Fondra had to brace herself for. It's "like being in grad school," she said, learning when and how to inject her son with insulin, how he should eat.

Learning how to keep him alive, she said.

"I knew nothing about it, you know? A normal person doesn't know about the pancreas," she said. "There's a huge learning curve."

But Carson was copasetic. At the hospital, she said, he prayed.

"He said, 'Thank you God that I have diabetes, I know you have a plan,'" she said. "He says there's a reason, and he makes the best of it."

Maybe in ways she didn't expect.

When prompted by his school's announcements of the state competition Invent Idaho, Carson chose a project designed to help with his daily blood sugar tests.

He measures his blood sugar 8 to 10 times a day, he said, using a needle in a hand-held tool to prick his finger and draw blood, which he drops on a test strip and inserts in a measuring gadget.

He figures that into a calculator, along with carb ratios, to determine how much insulin he needs.

"It's just an inconvenience," he said.

To expedite the process, he created a prototype testing meter that includes an alcohol swab to clean the user's finger, as an untainted specimen is essential for an accurate reading.

"I think it will help a lot," Carson said of diabetics using such a device.

The project won best of show for the 1st-4th grade division, for which Carson earned the chance to meet for free with a patent attorney, who will investigate if a similar product already exists.

Whether it earns him millions or just this bit of attention, his mother said, it demonstrates his pragmatic approach to his disease.

"Just him being able to do an invention that relates to his disease, I feel like it's empowered him," said Fondra.

The family emphasizes that the disease hasn't hindered Carson's typical kid endeavors; he plays soccer and basketball, with a snack kept nearby just in case.

"He's done an excellent job (handling diabetes)," said his father, Tom.

He tries to demonstrate that for other kids. His family performs at events as professional clowns - seriously - and Carson enjoys putting on free shows for hospitalized children.

If he meets kids admitted for onset of Type 1 diabetes, Fondra said, he assures they will get used to shots "really fast," like he did.

"He wants to show them it can't slow you down," she said.

And recently for a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Carson elected to cover the 3-mile distance on a unicycle, his clowning specialty.

Fondra carries photos of beatific kids surrounding Carson and his one-wheeled steed.

"They were amazed," she said. "I think they were encouraged to see that he could do that."

The Magees hope things will get easier. They follow the developments of an experimental artificial pancreas that could give Carson a much easier life, by allowing his body to adjust insulin.

And Carson wants to be a doctor himself some day, Fondra said.

"Maybe he'll find a cure," she said.

In the meantime, they just "take it day by day," she said.

"It's a hard thing," Fondra said. "But he's a great kid, and that helps."

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