Diabetes dictates new way of life for eight-year-old Jenna

The diabetes diagnoses six years ago changed life for Jenna and her family, who have to be constantly vigilant about Jenna's health.

Cheryl and Jenna enjoy a moment in the airport as they wait to head to Vancouver.

Diabetes.

That was the diagnoses three-year-old Jenna received in 2008.

Now, six years later, she is constantly vigilant about her health and energy levels.

“Everything she does affects her,” said her mom, Cheryl Reitsma.

“Stress, exercise, eating — all of that will affect what her sugar levels will be like.”

Jenna does little blood tests to check her sugars every two hours during the day, and  at 2 a.m. every night.

“It’s just become life for us,” Cheryl said.

If Jenna’s sugars get too high or too low she takes immediate action. If it’s too high, she gets on her insulin pump, if it’s too low, she eats something sweet. If action isn’t taken, Jenna could fall into a coma which could threaten her life.

Even minor health concerns can quickly become major, using up so much energy that her body can’t keep up.

“A cold or bladder infection can end up putting her in the hospital,” Cheryl said.

As a single Mom with three kids, Cheryl says it’s hard, especially with the closest hospital in Smithers.

She either loads up the whole family for a hospital trip or calls in a friend to watch her daughter Ari-Marie and son Kalib while she takes Jenna to the hospital.

Cheryl says she gets all types of support from family, friends and the church and school communities.

“It’s huge,” she said.

“My strength comes from God and knowing that this isn’t it for Jenna. There is so much more to Jenna’s life than just diabetes.”

Even facing all these challenges, Cheryl said Jenna is still thriving.

“Yes, she has this disease, and it’s a part of our life, but she’s still a little girl who loves life,” Cheryl said.

“You see her out there and you would never guess that out of all those kids she’s the one with diabetes.”

“Jenna has her moments when she is mad because she has diabetes, and she’s allowed to. I tell her it’s what you do with those emotions that makes the difference.

‘You’re allowed to be sad, you’re allowed to be frustrated, but remember that God chose you for this, and we don’t know why, but His glory is going to shine through that.'”

Jenna’s story was released in a video by Sun Life Financial last December.

Sun Life and Hope Air partner to fund free medical flights for people with diabetes living in rural Canada.

Of those people, they picked Jenna and her family for a surprise trip to Vancouver at the end of November 2014.

They visited the Vancouver Aquarium, where they went behind the scenes to hold snakes and feed and play with dolphins.

They did an opera rehearsal at the Vancouver Opera Company, playing piano, singing and trying on opera costumes.

Opera staff even sang “Let it go” from Frozen with Jenna and her family at special request.

Finally, they visited an American Girl store, closed to the public and opened specifically so Jenna could chose a gift.

Cheryl says she was so grateful their hosts at each place invested in her kids.

“They went above and beyond,” she said.

“It was huge to experience what we experienced, and not just the things that we experienced, but the people that we came in contact with on the way.”

“We weren’t just a project, we were people.”

When she was first given the option to take the trip and be featured in the video, Cheryl says she hesitated to put her family in the public eye.

But she prayed and decided to go ahead.

“My goal through this is that God’s glory will shine through us, and that people who don’t know God will see it in how we live daily life.”

To see the video go to youtube.com and search “Jenna Sun Life.”

 

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