Accompanied by Malachai, his diabetic alert dog, 8-year-old Nathaniel Sams watched the Vols practice in Knoxville this spring. Photo contributed.
Diabetes has not stopped one eight-year-old from enjoying his life and it hasn’t stopped him from raising over $1,300 to help fight the disease in a walk being held in Kingsport on Saturday.
Nathaniel Sams was not born with diabetes. He was a healthy child growing up, but once he was enrolled in school, things began to change.
“He graduated kindergarten and he hadn’t been feeling all that great,” said his mother Donna Sams. “We noticed some little things here and there...they had done a routine blood check to check his liver panel for his ADHD and his blood sugar was off.”
Doctors told Nathaniel’s parents to monitor his blood sugar for a couple of weeks. They did and Nathaniel’s blood sugar levels were concerning for his parents.
So they went to the emergency room and were eventually transferred to the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville. Doctors at the hospital are the ones who delivered the news that Nathaniel had Type 1 diabetes.
Sams said they went to Knoxville with no knowledge about diabetes and left with a college education.
While in Knoxville, the parents also had to experience another thing closely associated with diabetes, giving their son shots. The parents were a little shocked but the nurse said they had to learn how to give him shots because when the family got home, they would be the only ones to give him shots.
Sams had never given a shot before.
“That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she said. “It’s one thing to say you would never do that to your child...I’ll admit I was the same way. I was the first one to tell you I would never do that to my child. When that shot is the only thing that’s keeping them alive, you’ll do whatever you have to do to keep them alive.”
Since being diagnosed with diabetes a couple of years ago, Nathaniel has endured over 10,000 finger pokes and 2,000 shots.
Another thing the family had to learn to do was count carbs, short for carbohydrates. Counting carbs is essential for people with diabetes and the number of carbs taken in determines the amount of insulin Nathaniel needs.
Diabetes was a big worry for the family. About a month after Nathaniel was diagnosed, Sams called a place called Service Dogs by Warren Retriever. She called to ask if there was a service dog available to help with Nathaniel and his diabetes.
So on September 3, 2011, Malachi became an official member of the Sams family.
Malachi alerts the family if Nathaniel’s blood sugar gets too low or too high. He is very good at his job.
One of the defining moments in Malachi’s short time with the family was one night when Sams had checked Nathaniel’s blood sugar and it was 150.
That is an excellent blood sugar for the middle of the night, Sams said. So she went back to bed, but Malachi kept trying to wake her up. She thought he had to go to the bathroom and kept trying to brush him off.
So Malachi went and got into bed with Nathaniel and woke him up. Next thing Sams heard was the velcro on Nathaniel’s shoes ripping and Nathaniel saying his blood sugar was 27, an extremely low number.
“It wasn’t that Malachi wanted to get up and go potty or play, he was trying to tell me his brother was in danger,” Sams said. “From that moment on, I’ve never, ever not trusted the dog. Malachi knows his job.”
So life for the Sams’ family had returned to a bit of normalcy when they were out at Family Race Night last August at Bristol. While walking around, the family saw a booth for the American Diabetes Association and began talking to Erin Moran, who was curious about Malachi.
Moran informed the family about the annual Tri Cities Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes. So the family registered a team, Team Paws 4 the Cause, and set about raising money for the walk.
Nathaniel sold sponsorships on the back of his shirt for around $100. The first sponsors were Sam’s Club and Ramey Ford. Some other sponsors he has picked up include Fine’s jewlers, the Natural Pet store and Hicks and Associates among many others.
The walk will take place on Saturday at the Kingsport Farmer’s Market. Registration begins at 3 p.m. and opening ceremonies begin at 3:45 p.m. The walk will begin at 4 p.m.
The walk will have vendors, food and music for the enjoyment of the participants. The American Diabetes Association asks everyone to register online beforehand at www.diabetes.org/stepouttricities.
The Sams family wants to raise awareness about diabetes and hopes this walk will be able to help.
“Get involved as much as possible and come out and join us to walk,” Sams said. “Get educated as much as possible and to know the signs and symptoms of diabetes because it could save a life.”