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Jaxon’s journey: Teen adjusts to new life after Type 1 diabetes diagnosis

Jaxon Anderson serves a Blizzard out of the lakeside Dairy Queen window on Wednesday. Anderson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three days before Christmas. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Jaxon Anderson noticed this fall his weight was diving and his trips to the bathroom were becoming more frequent. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three days before Christmas -- a diagnosis his mother says uncovered a sense of responsibility she didn't know he had. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- Jaxon Anderson might weigh 125 pounds if you put rocks in his pockets. Or round to the nearest 25. Or shuttle him off to another planet, one with stronger gravity.

Jaxon didn’t believe it when doctors at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center told him he has diabetes. Soda had always been a weakness, and he did eat the same garbage most 17-year-old boys eat. But diabetes seemed a strange diagnosis for a kid so thin he was liable to blow away.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I was in denial. I didn’t know anything about it. But I did not think I had it.”

The soon-to-be senior at Bemidji High School carries around an insulin kit. He watches his carbs and knows there are approximately 50 in a 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew. He tells his friends everything they should know, on the off chance they will need to save him one day.

“They’ve been asking questions, and that’s good,” he said. “It means they care about me.”

Jaxon has Type 1 diabetes, the kind found in young people and unrelated to diet or exercise. The diagnosis surprised him, only because he treated diabetes like a game of word association: diabetes … “obesity,” he said.  

Less than 10 percent of people in the United States have diabetes, and less than 10 percent of those people have Type 1. The causes are weakly understood. Doctors agree it’s passed down through genes, and triggered by environmental factors -- exposure to viruses or chemicals.

It’s a condition researchers and doctors, including the one handing Jaxon’s case, are trying to solve.

It started, innocuously, in the fall. Jaxon was thirsty a lot, and started drinking more and more water. His bathroom trips multiplied by natural result.

“I was just happy he was drinking water,” Kristen Anderson, his mother, said. “Way to go, Jaxon!”

But there was clearly something wrong a few days before Christmas. Jaxon was shedding what little weight he started with, and the day of his checkup, he weighed 103 pounds.

His blood sugar was dangerously high. Doctors and nurses at Sanford Bemidji worked on him, pulling his levels back down. He stayed at the hospital overnight, but was out in time for Christmas, in time to watch his family eat all the things he couldn’t.

“It depressed him,” Kristen said.

Life with diabetes got better. The family began seeing Dr. Luis Casas, a pediatric endocrinologist at Sanford Fargo. He gave Jaxon the OK to eat whatever he wanted -- “to live the way he likes to, and figure out how much insulin he needs to offset that.”

So Jaxon went back to sipping Mountain Dew, diet.

He learned to take his insulin kit wherever there might be food.

Jaxon Anderson serves a Blizzard out of the lakeside Dairy Queen window on Wednesday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)He took a summer job -- at Dairy Queen.

“It’s fine,” he said. “I was never a big snacker.”

A year before he will set off on his own -- to study theater and perhaps teaching -- Jaxon is taking complete responsibility of this new, demanding part of his life.

“I’ve been so impressed how he’s on top of everything,” Kristen said. “Watching his levels and everything. He’s good with it, much better than I would be, and thank goodness he is. We’d be in trouble if he was little and I had to deal with it.”

Jaxon was diagnosed with diabetes just before Sanford opened a clinical trial for people with Type 1. Fargo drew Jaxon’s blood -- more than you would believe, his mother said.

The idea is to multiply T cells in the blood samples, and then return those cells to their owners. Researchers want to know whether this will help patients create insulin naturally.

“We should have the data analyzed by the end of the year,” Casas said. “Jaxon is part of something that may be very important in the history of diabetes.”

Jaxon is optimistic, but not waiting on a cure to rescue him.

He has accepted the work that comes with diabetes as a minor inconvenience, as something that simply needs to be done -- like washing the dishes or cleaning his room.

The difference being, his room is a mess.