East Iberville School student Daijah Thomas, 13, packs more than a book sack each day for class. She also carries her stylish pink portable beeper containing her life-saving insulin treatments.

Living with Type 1 diabetes became a way of life for Thomas in December 2007 when she first learned that her body could not produce its own insulin, the hormone necessary to get energy from the food she eats, she said.

On Friday, Thomas, a seventh-grader, joined about 100 of her classmates, teachers and others for the LA Gear Up Diabetes Walk and Kickball tournament at East Iberville in St. Gabriel to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said Erin Orr Ragsdale, East Iberville social studies teacher and LA Gear Up coordinator.

“The disease affects so many within our school and community. We feel that it is important to educate students about the warning signs of the disease as well as the efforts that are being made to find a cure …,” Ragsdale said.

Thomas, who said diabetes runs in her family, said the walk is her first. “I feel great, and it feels good that my school and my teachers are supportive of us (diabetics),” she said.

Living with diabetes is challenging, she said. Whether she is taking a test or walking to her locker, Thomas’ insulin pump might beep at any time, notifying her that it is time to check her blood sugar levels. To test it, she pokes herself with a finger stick. That helps her decide whether she needs to deliver herself a pump of insulin from the small tube that is attached to a portal in her stomach. The tube is also attached to her pink insulin pump.

It’s a small price to pay considering the alternative, Thomas said. Before the diagnosis, “I was always tired and thirsty…” and didn’t feel well, she said.

She learned to manage her illness with the help of her school’s nurse, family and others.

“It’s hard, but I have a lot of people who support me. It lifts the weight off my shoulders,” she said. “I hope students realize that diabetes is serious and not a joke.”

According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, about 30,000 people, half children, are diagnosed with the incurable Type 1 diabetes each year. Type 2 diabetes results from the body not producing enough insulin and is preventative through a healthy lifestyle that includes reducing sugar intake and exercising. About 25 million people in the United States were diagnosed with some form of diabetes in 2011, according to the American Diabetes Association. Complications associated with diabetes include heart disease and stroke, amputation and blindness.

Several student organizers and participants in the walk said the effects of diabetes have taken a toll on some members of their own families.

“My grandmother has diabetes and she almost died from it,” said Taytiana Reed, a junior at East Iberville School.

When you see a person you love who is happy and then sad, it makes you sad,” Reed said.

Though living with diabetes is a fact of life for Thomas, it has not stopped her from remaining positive and pursuing the things she loves. She is an active Beta Club member, and she takes ballet, jazz and hip hop dance, she said. “I’m still normal. I go to classes everyday and thanks to my pump, I know how to keep my diabetes under control.”

Visit http://www.jdrf.org for information on diabetes research.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer for The Advocate. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com