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A child's diabetes brought trials and a bit of wisdom

Published September 28, 2007

[Special to the Times]
Erika Watkins, 7, poses with mom Pamela and Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu at a July diabetes conference in Orlando.

The Animas Corp., which manufactures insulin pumps, pays clinical manager Joe Solowiejczyk to educate families about the challenges of diabetes.

But last year, a 7-year-old Brandon girl taught Solowiejczyk a lesson.

Solowiejczyk likes to start his presentations by asking the audience a question: What's the difference between God and doctors?

The adults at the American Diabetes Association seminar didn't have a guess, but before Solowiejczyk could provide the punchline - "God doesn't think he's a doctor" - Erika Watkins raised her hand.

"The difference between doctors and God is that God can heal," she said.

The room fell quiet, and the response left Solowiejczyk speechless.

"As soon as she raised her hand, I knew that she was going to say something profound," Solowiejczyk said. "The audience was touched by it as well. Now I tell that story in presentations, and everyone gets quiet."

Erika's response reflects the contagious optimism she's displayed since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the summer of 2006.

Her parents, Rodney and Pamela Watkins, had grown concerned about the increased frequency of Erika's trips to the bathroom and her constant thirst.

So Rodney made a doctor's appointment, but bought Erika a Chick-fil-A milk shake before going to the office.

The decision proved pivotal. It sent Erika's blood sugar count off the charts and doctors immediately knew she had diabetes.

Now insulin shots, blood sugar measurements and frequent snacks are a part of their lives. Her life and her family's life, including 4-year-old brother Joshua's, has changed dramatically. But at least initially, the Watkinses didn't fully realize the impact.

"I think it really started setting in when she went to school one day and we got a call to come to the school," Rodney said.

"She was playing outside and kept playing, getting water, and playing. Her blood sugar got low and the third time she came back to get the water, her lips were white and she was pale.

"That's when I realized you could pass out and die from this."

Information has proved to be the Watkinses' most powerful tool, and they are quick to credit the American Diabetes Association.

Erika has days when she grows weary of the shots and the monitoring. Although the family's faith has helped them meet the challenges, Solowiejczyk said the spiritual and physical challenges of diabetes can't be underestimated.

Fortunately, the association's efforts lets them know one important thing: They're not alone.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section. He can be reached at or 226-3406.

[Last modified September 27, 2007, 08:18:31]

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