Thatcher Heldring, freelance writer and author focused on Type 1 Diabetes

Thatcher Heldring

Thatcher Heldring is a freelance writer and author focused on Type 1 Diabetes, environmental education, and other issues related to children and health. He has also partnered with clients working on literacy, sustainable communities, youth leadership development, and health policy. Most recently he was the Director of Communications and Creative Services at IslandWood, the Seattle-based outdoor learning organization. He is also the author of four sports novels for young readers and the father of a 10-year-old T1 and a 13-year-old T3. You can reach Thatcher through his website at


My son Peter is one of eight students at his elementary school with type 1 diabetes. Ranging in age from 5 to 10, the diabetes kids are part of a small but mighty community built on care, comfort and normalcy.  Under the leadership of Nurse Sarah Barquero, Peter and his diabuddies meet monthly to talk about type 1 diabetes, practice management skills and play games, like guessing the carb counts in Halloween candy. 

The diabetes kids even do outreach. This fall, Nurse Sarah deployed them in pairs for a kid-driven, get-out-the-facts campaign about type 1 diabetes. Peter, now in third-grade, and Oliver, a second-grader, stood alongside their kindergarten buddies Simon and Ada as the four junior experts gave a carpet full of curious, cross-legged friends the 411 on type 1 diabetes. 

This was no ordinary show-and-tell. This was about four kids finding the words to help their peers understand complex concepts like insulin, blood sugar, and pumps, while making clear that type 1 diabetes is not like the flu - you can’t catch it - and that kids with type 1 diabetes can do, and eat, anything.

I believe Peter crossed a threshold that day. For that brief stretch of time between math and library, or free choice and lunch, he was able to put the disease outside his body, to externalize it as something separate from himself, even while owning it more completely than he ever had.

That had to feel good. To write “type 1 diabetes” on the board and say, I have you. But you don’t have me, all while giving his playground posse, and everyone else who sees the world at his eye level, the tools they need to be his allies.

On the surface, Peter may have already forgotten the day he explained type 1 diabetes to Ms. Gotchef’s kindergartners, but I know deep down the memory will be with him forever.  Which is fitting because, after all, type 1 diabetes is for life. There may be no growing out of it, but Peter is definitely growing from it.


Top 8 Things to Know About T1D  

1. Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas, which produces insulin, doesn’t work anymore. To stay alive, a person with T1D needs to monitor and manage their insulin levels 24/7.  Right now, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.

2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. People do not get type 1 diabetes because of anything they did or did not do.

3. Type 1 diabetes is not like the cold or the flu. You can’t catch it.

4. Kids with type 1 diabetes can eat any kind of food. They just need the right amount of insulin to convert sugar into energy

5. Kids with type 1 diabetes use devices like pokers, pumps, and phones to track their blood sugar levels and to figure out how much insulin they need.

6. Doing a finger poke hurts less than a flu shot.

7. If you see a friend with type 1 diabetes not acting like their normal selves, tell an adult right away.

8. Kids with type 1 diabetes can do anything. They like to swim, play soccer, and eat cupcakes - just like everyone else.

Living With A Disease

May 14, 2019

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