Pomona, Calif. - 12/20/2012 --
The tragic death of Fremont Academy of Engineering and Design 11th grade student Nikita Rodriguez from undiagnosed diabetes in late November 2012 was not in vain.
Those closest to her remember Nikita as a great student, exceptional leader and compassionate friend who provided a voice for victims of bullying.
She also inspired experts from Western Diabetes Institute (WDI), part of the Patient Care Center at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., to share diabetes information with concerned parents, students, staff, and community members Thursday night, Dec. 19, 2012 in Fremont Academy's cafeteria.
WDI Executive Director Dr. Andrew Pumerantz said he and his team wanted to turn this tragedy into an opportunity to educate the community on diabetes and explain the process of diagnosing and managing the disease.
"We are looking to empower individuals in the community to take better care of themselves and recognize the signs, symptoms, and risks of diabetes," he said. "I hope this memorial to Nikita will ultimately save many lives and improve the health and well-being of others in the community."
Nikita died on November 27, 2012 from undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes. Her mother, Patricia, said her daughter was busy with school and had many extracurricular activities. She said she wished she'd seen the signs and was more educated about diabetes to identify those signs. She says her child was always tired, but attributed it to her schedule.
"This event is great because this is what the community needs to learn about what the symptoms of diabetes are, and to know what to look for," she said. "Diabetes is a silent killer - the symptoms are hidden. There are different symptoms and you might think it's something else and it's not.
Patricia says that it's important a child tell a parent or someone how they are feeling.
Nikita was an exceptional person, a great student, an ASB leader, and a performer in Pomona College's Theater for Young Audiences program, said Fremont Academy principal Elizabeth Harper.
"She courageously stood up for other students, particularly those who were marginalized by others," Harper said. "She was fiercely independent and helped provide a voice for victims of bullying and social ostracism. She invited all students in."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011 diabetes facts sheet, diabetes affects more than 25 million people, which is more than 8 percent of the U.S. population. Seven million people go undiagnosed.
WDI team members who shared their expertise included Endocrinologist Dr. Airani Sathananthan, Registered Dietitian Melanie Barbee, Physical Therapist Steven Snyder, Care Coordinator Graciela Reza, and Clinical Research Coordinator Cesar Ochoa.
Dr. Sathananthan spoke about symptoms and the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. She said most people with diabetes have Type 2, but the symptoms of both can be similar including urinating a lot, being extremely thirsty, blurred vision, fatigue and weight loss.
Type 1 diabetes is common in children and young adults. Often patients are not overweight, and there may be a family history of autoimmune diseases. All patients with Type 1 diabetes require insulin.
"Compared to the past, we are seeing many more cases of Type 2 diabetes in children. Likely this is due to the increase in childhood obesity which stems from poor diet choices and lack of exercise," said Sathananthan. "It's important our children are physically active."
Fremont Academy bilingual resource teacher Sandra Mendoza said the death of Nikita affected her personally because she too has Type 1 diabetes, having been diagnosed 34 years ago.
"Thanks to an amazing support team and excellent training, I have led a very healthy life. Many of my juvenile diabetic friends have not been so fortunate," said Mendoza. "Given our tragic loss, this is a wonderful way to help our community and ensure that this unnecessary loss of a young life does not happen again."