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When your toddler develops Type 1 diabetes

At just 5 years old, Liam maturely manages his diabetes—and enjoys life to the fullest.

Young boy with blond hair practicing karate outside in a white karate uniform and green belt.
Liam is a warrior—helping manage his Type 1 diabetes, and helping other kids fight, too.

At just 5 years old, Liam Dubno has his own cell phone, plans some of his own meals and helps the family with food shopping. It’s all part of his life managing Type 1 diabetes

Until last year, Liam was like any other toddler. He’d recently become a big brother to a baby sister. But then one day his mother, Gloriamarie, noticed that her son was going to the bathroom more frequently than usual. That night, she found him asleep in the family’s Merrick, NY, home, holding the water bottles she and her husband, Peter, usually kept by their bed. Liam had finished the water in both bottles. “I thought, ‘This doesn’t seem right.’ But I didn’t think it was anything serious,” Gloriamarie said. Still, out of caution, she made an appointment with the family’s pediatrician. It turned out to be the right call. The pediatrician ordered a blood test and found that Liam’s blood sugar was about four times higher than normal. 

“He sat me down and said, ‘Listen, Liam has diabetes,’” Gloriamarie said. “‘You have to go to the emergency department at Cohen Children’s Medical Center right now.’” Phyllis Speiser, MD, chief of pediatric endocrinology, met them there. “Liam was very dehydrated when he was admitted, and his blood glucose was very high,” Dr. Speiser said. “Our job was to get him stabilized, and educate his parents about Type 1 diabetes and how to care for him.” The Dubnos learned how to check Liam’s blood sugar and give him insulin. They also learned the best way to manage his diet to keep his blood sugar as stable as possible throughout the day. 

Young boy with blond hair in a blue shirt playing in a child-sized green truck.
Liam’s in the driver’s seat these days, living his life with a continuous glucose monitor.

The family also started building long-term relationships with Dr. Speiser and Cohen Children’s dedicated diabetes nursing and nutrition teams. “They really held our hands through the beginning, when we needed someone to care for us,” Gloriamarie said. “When we went home, we were nervous, but felt really supported.” The team of endocrinologists and the diabetes support team at Cohen Children’s made sure Liam and his parents had the tools they needed to manage his condition. 

Soon after the diagnosis, the Dubnos and Dr. Speiser decided that a continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump would be best for Liam, rather than finger-stick blood tests and insulin injections. A continuous glucose monitor involves a sensor inserted under the skin that checks blood glucose levels continuously, and wirelessly transmits that information to a receiver—in Liam’s case, his cell phone. The little boy thrives in the freedom that this technology allows. Liam is like other children his age—going to school, playing with friends and practicing karate. 

He is also unique in unexpected ways. “The first day of summer camp last year, he got on the bus and introduced himself to the driver,” Gloriamarie said. It was the first time he would ride the bus by himself. “He said, ‘My name is Liam, and I’m diabetic. I have a cell phone because it connects to my glucose monitor and tells me if I’m low. I have gummy bears to eat if I need sugar, so please don’t take them away from me.’” His parents were amazed to hear it. “We didn’t tell him to do that. He just learned to self-advocate,” Gloriamarie said. Liam has already learned to make healthy choices, too. “He’ll tell me, ‘Mommy, this cookie doesn’t taste good enough to deal with the carbs. I don’t need it.’” 

When Liam’s diagnosis was new, the Dubnos wished they had people to talk to who knew firsthand what they were going through. Thanks in part to the help and support the family has received from the pediatric endocrinology team at Cohen Children’s, the family—including Liam—works to pay its knowledge forward. For example, the Dubnos connect locally to help parents with newly diagnosed kids. They recently worked with a family to assist with their daughter’s new glucose monitor. Liam had sage advice for the little girl, Gloriamarie recalled. “He told her that it just hurts a little bit and when it’s done, her mommy would give her a little prize. He was just really trying to ease her into it.”

As for Liam, he views Dr. Speiser as a “general,” the leader of an army fighting diabetes, while he is a warrior. “She teaches me how to take care of myself," Liam said. "I follow the doctor’s orders like an army man follows the general’s orders."