Winnie Bruce Photography
Kate Gannon was like most eight year old girls last September when she started third grade in Silver Spring, Maryland. She liked to play with American Girl dolls and Calico Critters, and she loved to go to the beach and spend time with her friends. Sometimes she even liked playing with her little sister, Nora!
But in September of last year she began to lose weight and started eating and drinking more. Her parents wondered if she was just going through a growth spurt, but over one weekend she became lethargic and just wasn’t herself. After she threw up, they took her to the urgent care center and her mother mentioned that her symptoms seemed consistent with diabetes. But no one in their family had that! Once the doctor checked her urine for sugar, however, he told her mom to scoop her up, not bother to pay her bill, and head straight to the Emergency Room at Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC: she had Type 1 Diabetes and was in diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your body stops producing the insulin you need to turn carbohydrates into energy and instead starts breaking down the fat in your body.
At the hospital, the doctors were able to give Kate the insulin she needed to bring her sky-high blood sugar level down and to get some energy into her cells. They explained to Kate and her parents that no one knows how or why Type 1 diabetes happens, but Kate’s pancreas cells just weren’t producing insulin any more and never would. The doctors told Kate she would need insulin every day for the rest of her life and would have to prick her finger to check her blood sugar levels at least five times a day and take multiple shots of insulin. If her blood sugar goes too low, she feels shaky and weak, and can even have a seizure or pass out. If her blood sugar is too high, she is tired and has a headache. And high blood sugar year after year can damage her kidneys, eyes, and heart.
It was a scary diagnosis. It has meant a lot of changes. Unlike other kids, Kate cannot just pick up a snack and eat it. She can’t just grab a cupcake at the girl scout meeting or a handful of goldfish at a play date. Instead, before every meal containing any carbohydrates, she must check her blood sugar. She checks her blood with a finger prick 8-12 times a day. She now has an insulin pump, which delivers insulin all day long via a small needle in her skin that needs to be changed out every 2-3 days. She also wears a separate device called a continuous glucose monitor that inserts under her skin and gives an idea of her blood sugar values every five minutes. Her parents keep track of her blood sugar during the night and she cannot sleep over at other kids’ houses. At school, she has to leave the classroom to treat low or high blood sugars nearly every day. She’s not like other kids.
But Kate does not let diabetes defeat her. Soon after her diagnosis, she learned to check her own blood sugar. She knows how to use the pump herself to give insulin before meals, or if her blood sugar is too high. She carries candy or juice wherever she goes to to take care of her low blood sugars. She has helped to educate others about Type 1 diabetes by talking to her Brownie Troop and her little sister’s Daisy Troop about diabetes and what it means to live with it, and she helped the troops earn their “Diabetes Awareness” Fun Patch. In May, Kate headed up “Team Kate” in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “Walk for the Cure” at the National Mall and raised more than $5,000 for diabetes research.
Just a week before this photo shoot, Kate was in the hospital again, but this time was not for diabetes but for a ruptured appendix! She’s been through a lot in the last ten months, but she’s shown her true beauty by learning to live with her disease while being the generous, kind, smart girl she’s always been.
Winnie Bruce is a portrait and lifestyle photographer based out of Annapolis, Maryland. Born in the Philippines, Winnie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she met her husband, Brian. They have been married 11 years. Her husband joined the USAF 10 years ago and it has given them the opportunity to travel around the country. Winnie is a mom to two boys: Elliott and Finnegan. Besides photography, Winnie enjoys music, antiquing, and baseball.