Forget sibling rivalry. Eliana and Mathias Salmon have more important things to do than quibble. They recently teamed up to launch SweetSiblings.org, a website for kids with type 1 diabetes.
The site, which is available in English and Spanish, is aimed at mentoring newly diagnosed kids. The two teenagers post advice on kid-friendly topics, such as eating favorite foods, dealing with diabetes during school, and handling holiday diet temptations.
"We came up with the tips through experience — trial, and error," Mathias told Healthline. "By creating the website I wanted to share those tips with everyone so they didn't have to make those errors."
Mathias, 13, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was just a toddler. His sister, 15, has been helping him cope with the condition for a decade. The two have been active in the diabetes community in New York, but they felt they could have a much greater impact if they posted their suggestions online. They’ve created a space where kids can talk to their peers about their life-changing condition.
"Over the years, I have helped a lot of children who are newly diagnosed transition into a life with diabetes," Mathias said. "When you're first diagnosed you feel like your life is over. I meet with them personally and explain to them that everything will be okay. "
Only 5 percent of diabetics have type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels, which can go up and down depending on what you eat. Type 1 diabetics may experience blood sugar spikes or drops so severe that they end up in a coma.
Growing up with diabetes has been challenging for both children. Diabetes is a 24/7 condition, Mathias said, and it takes a lot of energy and concentration to constantly keep tabs on his health.
Siblings Need Support, Too
Having a diabetic in the family can also be taxing for siblings, which is why Eliana's perspective is equally important. As a young child, Eliana remembers being frustrated with her brother's restrictive diet, which affected her ability to eat normally. She taught herself to deal with any disappointments so she could better support her brother.
Diabetes affects the entire family, she said. "Oftentimes the advice is directed specifically toward the diabetic child, but I think it's also important to support the sibling, because they're also greatly affected by diabetes," Eliana said.
The siblings' best advice for newly diagnosed kids is to embrace a positive attitude and stay hopeful that things will get easier in the future.
Eliana and Mathias have posted their contact information on the website, and say they will answer any questions sent their way.
"We want to be role models for children," Eliana said. "With the right support and the right attitude, we believe diabetics can have the same lives as people without diabetes."