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H E A L T H 1 0 1 Students with medical needs juggle college life, disease management 1 0 1 By Jessica Schonberg THE FREE LANCE-STAR
The transition to college can be tough for any student, but especially for one with a chronic medical condition

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Date published: 8/20/2006

hen Richmond native Rachel Beckner was preparing to go off to college last fall, she decided to stop wearing her insulin pump because she didn't like the way it looked.

Insulin pumps, usually worn on the hip, help diabetics manage the disease with short-acting, adjustable doses of insulin 24 hours a day. With a pump, diabetics can be more flexible about what and when they eat, rather than planning meals around the effects of insulin shots.

For Beckner, 19, shedding the pump meant taking more responsibility for regulating her blood sugar levels. Instead of programming her needs into her pump, she'd have to inject herself with insulin multiple times a day.

"It was rough at first," Beckner said.

Making the switch got easier as time went on, though, and she liked not wearing the equipment.

"But my blood sugar [levels] weren't as good as they should've been," Beckner said.

So, after a pump-less year at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Beckner has decided to start wearing it again. She's choosing the convenience of using it over the aesthetic appeal of going without. Her parents, she said, encouraged the decision.

Their priority was disease management, not style, and Beckner said she agrees the pump makes it easier for her to stay on top of her diabetes.

"I actually like the pump better, even though aesthetically I don't," Beckner said.

Beckner, who has had diabetes since she was 7, is one of thousands of young people who head off to college each year with a chronic medical condition.

For these students, managing their health puts added pressure on dealing with the everyday ups and downs of college life.

On their own

Before leaving for college, most teenagers have the support of their parents to help with their disease management.

Whether it's a reminder to check their blood sugar or a hand in scheduling appointments and picking up prescriptions, parents often play a vital role in keeping their teens healthy. They can serve balanced meals, and nudge their kids to go to bed at a decent hour.

When a student leaves for school, parents' ability to do all that diminishes.

Medical professionals say that's why it's important for students with health conditions to be well prepared to take care of themselves.

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