Monday, October 28, 1996
Diabetes ID bracelet not a scarlet letter

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Michael McIntire feels lucky today.

And he箂 not the only one.

His school is lucky. As are his dad, a team of paramedics and the city.

Michael箂 lucky because he箂 a happy ninth-grader at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. And, he箂 still alive.

Two Fridays ago, it looked like his luck had run out.

Michael is diabetic. His blood sugar level dropped, and he started going into insulin shock at school.

He blanked out. His eyes were open, but his stare was vacant.

His 15-year-old legs wouldn箃 hold him. So, he half-walked and was half-carried into the school箂 office.

Paramedics were already on the scene. Another student had blacked out.

The paramedics took a look at Michael. They didn箃 know he was diabetic. He wasn箃 wearing a medical alert bracelet or a tag around his neck.

Michael doesn箃 care for that kind of jewelry. 寣Looks stupid,构 he says. Makes him stand out. Like wearing a neon sign that says: I筸 different.

Very few 15-year-olds want to be different.

What箂 he on?

At first, the paramedics thought he was high on drugs. He had the symptoms. So, they told the school箂 security team that the police had to take him to the hospital. And then they left.

While this was going on, the school was trying to reach Michael箂 father, Kevin McIntire.

Frantic workers in the school箂 office grabbed Michael箂 file. They took out a piece of paper with phone numbers on it and started dialing. Home phone. Office phone. Cellular phone. All they got was voice mail. Welcome to the world of instant telecommunications.

No one in the office thought to turn the paper over. If they had, they would have seen information about Michael箂 diabetic condition. They could have told the paramedics.

Precious minutes ticked by. Finally, a teacher and a friend of Michael箂 father who volunteers at the school told Assistant Principal David Jones that this could be diabetes, and not drugs.

Michael McIntire is no doper. He has no history of drug abuse.

Mr. Jones knows Michael is 寣a good kid. I筸 a car nut. He箂 a car nut. We talk cars. He箂 good student.构

Yet when he saw him in the office, the assistant principal still thought: 寣Overdose.构 He looked into Michael箂 eyes. He watched him nodding off. In disbelief, he saw 寣symptoms of drug abuse.构

This comes from a man with 10 years of experience in a volunteer life squad and 25 years in education.

But as soon as he heard Michael was diabetic, the assistant principal rushed to save him.

寣Get sugar in him,构 he told himself. David Jones started giving Michael sips from a can of Coca-Cola.

寣As soon as we got a little bit in him, his lips started moving,构 the relieved assistant principal said. 寣Then he started coming out of it. He looked around and asked: 學hat happened?构

You箁e in luck

Others are asking questions, too. Cincinnati箂 fire department investigated its paramedics. The school is looking into how it handles medical emergencies.

Michael箂 dad is wondering: 寣Why didn箃 I make him wear that ID necklace? I guess since he never had a problem with his diabetes before, I didn箃 think it was going to be a problem.

寣I should have put my foot down. Forced the issue. Made him wear it.构

Notice Michael箂 father is not blaming anybody. He箂 not slamming the school or screaming for the paramedics heads. As he says: 寣I筸 not angry. I筸 concerned.构

He箂 stepping up and taking responsibility for his son. And he箂 making sure Michael is wearing his ID tag.

寣He doesn箃 get out of the house unless it箂 on. He箂 learned that his dad was right after all.构

Michael also has learned that it箂 OK to be different. Ever since he was diagnosed with diabetes four years ago, he箂 been saying, 寣maybe I have this for a reason.构

Now, he thinks the reason is to tell kids like him: 寣I was close to death. So, don箃 slack off. Wear the ID bracelet.构

What happened to Michael could happen to them. And, they might not be as lucky.

Cliff Radel箂 column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.