Of all the photos taken over 20 years of my daughter Lauren’s diabetes life, the one that haunts me is the one in which she – and we – had no idea Type 1 diabetes was trying to kill her.
It’s her formal kindergarten picture, taken in 1997, when, sans Internet, you’d have your school picture taken and six weeks later it would be sent home. In my daughter’s picture she’s gaunt and pale in a way that I somehow didn’t notice in daily living. Her cute dress’s shoulder seam sits almost at her elbow. She’d grown so thin, her clothes were almost falling off of her.
I didn’t understand what was happening.
I’d been semi-nonchalantly rationalizing her symptoms (excessive, nearly unquenchable thirst = it was a particularly warm fall; everyone was thirsty). Bed-wetting (she’d just started school, stress perhaps?) Weight loss. (She was growing taller. Her dad was thin. I’d been thin almost all my life). When I finally brought her to the doctor and they made the diagnosis, I realized it had all been right there before me.
After my daughter’s diagnosis I was so absorbed with her care that I hardly reflected on what it had been like before the diagnosis. Six weeks later, my heart nearly broke when her school picture arrived in the mail. It was taken two days before her Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
I will always harbor a tiny bit of guilt for not seeing my daughter’s suffering before her diagnosis. I was reminded of Lauren’s kindergarten picture when I read that after a months-long trial, a Canadian judge has found Emil and Rodica Radita guilty of first-degree murder in the death of their 15 year old son, Alex, who had Type 1 diabetes. The Raditas denied their son the insulin therapy he needed to survive, and were both sentenced to life in prison.
“An emergency worker detailed the disturbing scene upon discovering the teen in his parents’ bedroom on the night of his death, May 7, 2013.
“She described him as emaciated to the point where he appeared ‘mummified.’ His face had no visible flesh left as she could see every bone in his face,” court records of the worker’s account stated. “He had black, necrotic sores on his face and his left jaw had open sores so deep she could see his jaw bone. There was nothing left of his stomach as he was just so extraordinarily skinny. She estimated his waistline to be approximately three inches. He was dressed in a diaper and t-shirt. His eyes were open. He was not breathing.”
An autopsy found the cause of death to be bacterial sepsis, brought on by starvation and neglect.”
Every parent should be horrified by this story – letting a child in your care die of a treatable disease because of… religion? And for the diabetes-parent, it goes much deeper because we’ve been with our children through many high blood sugar experiences. We’ve smelled the sickly-sweet poison of ketones on our kid’s breath. We know first-hand just how evil diabetes can be to a body, even when care is present. We understand this because we are so intimate with the disease. The cruelty of Alexandru Radita’s murder, then, the years of his unthinkable suffering and horror, shreds our hearts in a kind of personal way because we spend our lives making sure that never happens to our children.
Court records state that the Raditas took Alex, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2000, to the hospital in 2003 and told the doctor he had only been sick for a couple of weeks when he got a viral infection and began vomiting. The doctor “could not reconcile this information to the physical state Alex was then in. He asked Mrs. Radita directly whether she understood that Alex had diabetes. She did not respond.”
In 2004, Alex was placed in foster care where he thrived, learning the basics of his diabetes care like matching the food he ate with a dose of insulin, and understanding the importance of constant oversight and care.
But in 2005 he was sent back to his parents. Four years later the Raditas moved to Alberta, where Alex was reportedly homeschooled, and isolated from anyone who could see his sickly condition and interfere on his behalf. “Alex lived and died alone,” a prosecutor said.
The Raditas withheld simple shots of insulin from their son, shots which take only 10 seconds to administer, and which enable a person with diabetes to live a full, healthy, and happy life. Instead they chose to let him sink into what had to have been one of the most horrifying and painful deaths imaginable.
When I look at that photo of my daughter, suffering greatly and me not knowing yet, I flash back to something someone said after her diagnosis that bothered me then.
“I”m glad she has you for a mom.”
How I wish Alex had been mine, or the child of one of the thousands and thousands of D-parents I know who would turn their lives upside down to make his better.
The image of Alex Radita is a screenshot from the Calgary Herald’s report.