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This story originally appeared in the Fall 2023 edition of the St. Louis Children’s Foundation Magazine. Learn more about how donors make a difference and how you can get involved at any level!

For kids living with diabetes, managing a chronic disease can be hard. Because it affects every aspect of a child’s life — academic, social, emotional and physical — a variety of support is needed to ensure success.

Thanks to generous donations, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University Physicians unveiled the first mobile pediatric diabetes unit in the nation to address the needs of kids in the St. Louis area. The program, which is part of the Healthy Kids Express umbrella of services and began service in February 2023, makes visits to schools in north St. Louis County to help students manage diabetes and prevent the disease. There are two types of diabetes, a condition in which the body can’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin normally. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, considered a long-term condition and may start at any age. There is no cause and it often appears suddenly. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder and risk factors include family history, excess weight and lack of exercise.

Washington University physician and Division Chief of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes Ana María Arbeláez, MD, MSCI, oversees the program, which is located in five area school districts where physicians saw an increase in the numbCommunity Vaner of children with Type 1 diabetes and those who came into the hospitals with high risks of developing Type 2 diabetes. It focuses on middle- and high school-aged children, who often go undiagnosed.p>

Providing mobile care in their neighborhoods helps to remove barriers to diabetes care and other services that help save their lives. Program staff aims to educate, empower and equip families to feel comfortable navigating their chronic conditions, or for those with pre-diabetes, helps prevent them from developing the condition altogether. Students will be screened for diabetes complications through blood and urine tests, and checked for retinopathy, an eye condition linked to diabetes that is the leading cause of preventable blindness. The mobile unit team will discuss nutrition with children who are at risk of developing diabetes and properly train students and more than 250 school nurses on how to inject insulin shots and use insulin pumps and glucose monitoring machines.

All services are free of charge and covered by generous donations to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital is one of the world’s leading treatment and clinical research centers for diabetes, providing comprehensive care for pediatric patients throughout the entire diagnostic and treatment process. As the metro area’s largest pediatric diabetes program, the diabetes team sees patients from Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Kentucky for treatment.

It is also the only pediatric hospital in St. Louis accredited by the American Diabetes Association. Historically, St. Louis Children’s Hospital was the first to treat a diabetic child in the United States with insulin. “It has never been clearer that the one-size-fits-all health model is no longer applicable for diabetes management,” said Dr. Arbelaez. “The Healthy Kids Express Diabetes Mobile Unit meets patients where they are and builds a stronger, inclusive and healthier community for those living with diabetes or prediabetes through prevention, screening, education and treatment programs.”