Jessica Mueller gives back to the hospital that supported her with diabetes

Oct 25, 2016

Jessica might be the most productive person you know. At school, she’s the Captain of the Varsity Lacrosse team, President of the National Honor Society, representative on the Senior Advisory Board, member of the Link Crew, and a group leader for Students Against Destructive Decisions. On top of all that, she participates - in a big way - in a shocking number of activities throughout her community. She’s an Ambassador for the Diabetes Youth Foundation of Indiana, a member of two county 4-H clubs, a Eucharistic minister at church services, was first Runner-Up at the Vanderburgh County Fair Queen Pageant, and she helps at her local food bank. She also enjoys playing the piano, attending high school football games, shopping, traveling, and driving her 2003 Saturn with no air conditioning that she’s affectionately named Debbie.

Her experiences receiving diabetes care have impacted her life path and influenced where she currently spends many of her volunteer hours giving back to a hospital system that has supported her through the Riley Dance Marathon.

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When were you diagnosed with diabetes?
I was diagnosed July 2010 when I was 11 years old.

If you had to repeat any single year of your life so far, without changing a thing, which year would you relive?
This year – my senior year of high school. I love having the opportunity be a leader to underclassmen in my school, but also am very excited to see what college has in store for me. Each summer, I work at a camp in Noblesville, Indiana for children with type one diabetes. This past summer was the most fun I have had yet. In addition, I was awarded first runner-up in the Miss Vanderburgh County Fair Pageant this past July. I had such a fun week promoting the Vanderburgh County Fair and meeting the people who keep it running. This school year, I have had the chance to serve my school and community. My personal favorite is being a member of the Reitz Memorial High School Riley Dance Marathon Executive Committee.

Tell us about the history of the Riley Dance Marathon?
The Riley Dance Marathon began in 1991 at Indiana University in honor of AIDS patient, Ryan White. Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS after he received a blood transfusion in 1984. He faced extreme discrimination for his disease due to the lack of understanding and awareness of AIDS. He gained national attention when fighting for his right to attend school.

The event is Riley Children’s Hospital’s fastest growing program. More than sixty colleges and high schools hold their own Riley Dance Marathon. The dance marathons raise millions of dollars for the hospital each year. Many of the participants are very passionate about serving in this program and follow the motto “dancing for those who can’t”.

Please elaborate on your relationship with the Riley Children’s Hospital? How do they make to make it easy for you to get the care you need? 
When I was first diagnosed in 2010, I was cared for by an endocrinologist in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana. There was a shortage of endocrinologists in my area and my doctor was overwhelmed with the amount of patients he had, and most were adults. He arranged for my mom to manage most of my disease, even though I was old enough to understand and learn good management skills on my own. After six rough months we transferred to the outpatient endocrinology care of Riley Children’s Hospital. Our experience at Riley was the opposite. Riley cared for my every need and encouraged me to not only strive and meet my diabetes goals, but also achieve all my goals in life.

During each appointment, I meet with my endocrinologist or nurse practitioner, a dietitian and a social worker. Each person spends an ample amount of time with me making sure that they can help me live to my fullest potential with my disease.

Every three months, my endocrinology team from Riley travels to Evansville to take care of all their patients. This is incredibly convenient because I miss less school and no longer have an 8 to 10 hour roundtrip to Indianapolis.

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Have you always used an insulin pump? If not, what aspects of pump therapy were appealing to you when you made the switch?
I began using a pump just six months after diagnosis. I did not like having to take extra shots because of high blood sugars or snacking. With a pump, I have more freedom to adjust my basal rates and take insulin when needed. I have had a Tandem pump for a little over a year now and I love that people no longer confuse my pump with a pager.

I also use my CGM all the time and it really helps me keep good control over my blood sugars. I love that it doesn’t only tell me sugar, but also trends of how fast and slow my sugars are rising and falling. I find this information most helpful during lacrosse games and practices. I rarely go low when playing sports or being active in general because I am able to catch my sugars before they drop and correct or make adjustments to my basal rate on my pump.

You said Riley has impacted your life by inspiring your career path, can you elaborate?
I had negative experiences with dietitians and a more recent positive one that led me to pursue being a dietitian. Of course, what you eat is a big part of how well you can manage your diabetes. Before my move to Riley, I felt chastised for not eating perfectly healthy all the time. When I moved to Riley, I met someone who changed my perspective on food forever. Each time she visited me for my three month Riley appointment, the dynamic in the room changed. She told me that instead of changing the foods that I ate, I just needed to change “the way” I ate. She taught me about how portion control helps keep my blood sugar stable. My favorite phrase she said to me was, “When you want to eat an Oreo, one Doubled Stuffed Oreo is a serving. However if you buy the thin Oreos, three Oreos are one serving so you get more for the same amount of carbs.” This dietitian inspired me to want to spread her philosophy and follow in her footsteps as a registered dietitian.

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How did the Dance Marathon first come to your school? What should others know if they want to bring it to their school or organization?
Riley Dance Marathon at Reitz Memorial High School was started by formers students who were looking for a way to do more for the community.  They contacted Riley Hospital, who then sent a representative to help our students prepare for the event. Once the event was held, our students had so much fun, we had to do another event the next year. Each year the marathon has exceeded participation and donation expectations. Our event this year will be our third marathon.

What is the theme of the Riley Dance Marathon this year? What should attendees expect?
This year’s theme is Cinco de Mayo because the event will be held on May 5, 2017. Attendees can expects lots of fun activities (tug-of-war and dodgeball), inspiring stories from those in which Riley has had a positive effect in their life, and, of course, a dance---- all in honor of the kids. Our motto is “FTK” (For The Kids).

What do you think is the most important diabetes issue right now?
I believe that the most important diabetes issue right now would be the lack of understanding and awareness of the disease. Many people confuse the treatment and effects of type one and type two diabetes. There are many unfair stereotypes. I have had numerous people tell me that I could not eat a certain food or judge me for not having perfect blood sugars when all I had to do was “take a pill.”

How can others get involved to help solve it/improve the situation?
By spreading diabetes awareness and explaining their disease to others.

My friends both inside and outside of school always encourage and help me out with my diabetes. In school, they walk me to the office when I’m not feeling well, sit with me when I am low, and are always willing to stop and get a quick snack with me when needed. Many of them find diabetes very interesting and want to learn more about it!

Do you feel supported in your journey with diabetes?
I feel very supported by my community in my journey with diabetes. My parents, friends, teachers, coaches, and teammates are always willing to help me out. My parents always help me out with getting my supplies and delivering me diabetic necessities when I forget them at school. They always go the extra mile and never fail to support me through my good and bad days.

If you could have a song written about you, which musician would compose it and what would the song be called?
Taylor Swift. It may be about “Shaking Off” the bad days I have with high and low blood glucose.

If you could be on the cover of any magazine next month, which magazine would you want it to be, and what would the caption be?
I would choose to be on the cover of People. People Magazine in my personal opinion usually has the most reliable celebrity news. I would want the caption to be something about either me winning the Olympics in lacrosse or basketball (this is highly unlikely considering I am only four foot eleven) or having a beautiful wedding with one of my celebrity crushes.

If you met someone newly diagnosed with diabetes, what would be your advice to them?
I would advise them to meet other diabetics in their community. It’s always fun to connect and share stories with someone who has such similar experiences to you and understands the struggles and advantages associated with type one diabetes.

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