In the last five years, Sydney Clifford has transformed from an unsure 9-year-old girl newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, to a confident, positive young woman and leader in the local diabetes community.
Immediately after her diagnosis, Sydney came to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, where her parents, Don and Sheri Clifford, of Franklin, Ind., remember the reality of the situation sinking in.
“I always knew of Riley, and I was happy that we had a wonderful children’s hospital, but sitting in the emergency room and realizing that our child was there, it was surreal,” Sheri recalls. “There were doctors upon doctors explaining everything to us. It was clear that it wasn’t just one brain at work; it was a whole team of people who were going to help us move forward.”
That’s not to say the adjustment to life with diabetes was an easy one. Besides the painful insulin injections and finger sticks, Sydney’s diagnosis singled her out as different at a time when most kids just want to fit in.
“I started fifth grade that fall, and on the very first day, I made another girl pass out when I checked my blood sugar because she couldn’t handle the sight of blood,” Sydney recalls. “The transition from middle to high school was also tough, but you get more confident as you go, and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I know how to handle this stuff.’”
Now a 14-year-old sophomore at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Sydney has come into her own, attending multiple diabetes camps each summer and serving on Riley’s Diabetes Patient Advisory Board to help shape new research and treatments.
“Sydney is one of the most uplifting people with Type 1 diabetes I have ever interacted with,” says Tamara Hannon, M.D., a Riley Pediatric Endocrinologist and director of Riley’s Pediatric Diabetes Program. “Every time she comes into clinic she has a smile on her face and a can-do attitude, and she really is able to be a leader amongst her peers.”
When she counsels kids who are newly diagnosed, Sydney reassures them that they can handle it, just like she does every day. “I tell them, ‘When you’re in the hospital, everyone is using big words, but it’s going to be fine,’” she says. “‘You are going to figure it out. You are not the only one.’”