Leigh and Ryan's story: An Annual Exam Can Change Your Life

Leigh Wilkins sometimes wondered why she bothered taking her three children to their annual physical exams. Her kids are healthy and the exam often seemed pointless. On August 3, 2011, her skepticism came to an abrupt end.

Listen to Leigh and Ryan in their own words. 

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Leigh’s son Ryan had an annual back-to-school physical exam with their family physician, Dr. Susan Davis-Brown. Just before leaving the office, Ryan was asked for a urine sample. He provided it and he and his mom headed home. That’s when Leigh received a phone call that literally changed her son’s and family’s life forever. The urine test came back with indicators of high sugar. Dr. Davis-Brown asked Leigh and Ryan to return to the office of Brookville Family Medicine and she immediately ran a blood test to confirm her suspicions. The test came back positive. Ryan had type 1 diabetes. Dr. Davis-Brown told Leigh to get her son to Children’s Medical Center (CMC) immediately. “I told her I really needed to stop by my house; she told me to proceed directly to the hospital.”

Ryan was admitted and spent three days at CMC where he received education about his disease and how it would change his life. Ryan, a fifth-grader, now has an insulin pump, counts his carbohydrates and is learning to manage his disease. “When Dr. Davis-Brown told me I had diabetes, I didn’t get it. I thought it was some sickness and I’d get medicine and be better,” recalls Ryan. “She never got all excited when she told me. She was calm and it made me feel better.”

When Ryan and Leigh reflect on the weeks leading up to the diagnosis, they both agree Ryan was drinking a lot of water and urinating more than usual. “But it was hot,” said Leigh. “We were all drinking water. It was nothing really unusual.” Leigh is now upbeat about annual physical exams. She realizes that if Dr. Davis-Brown had not done a urinalysis, Ryan’s diabetes would have continued to a point where he may have had an emergency event, “His pancreas would have been much more damaged. She caught his disease very early.”

Type I diabetes has changed Ryan’s life, but he can still play sports and do most of what he did before the diagnosis. It has also changed Leigh’s life. Before learning of her son’s disease, Leigh was conscientious of her family’s diet. “But now, I’ve got to take it up a notch because now it’s basically life or death,” she said. “I knew I had to understand the disease and how to manage it from home so he could follow my lead.”

Asking restaurants about ‘carbs’ has become part of Ryan’s life. “Sometimes I go on the Internet to find out,” said Ryan. Ryan checks his blood sugar five times a day — upon waking up, before each meal and just before bedtime. “The goal with diabetes is to keep your blood sugar at an even level as much as possible all day long,” said Leigh.

The Wilkins feel thankful to have Dr. Davis-Brown as their family physician. “She is great about reminding me how an illness can affect Ryan’s diabetes or how the diabetes can affect the illness,” said Leigh.

Leigh Wilkins has an entirely different outlook on annual physicals these days and she has a true respect for Dr. Davis-Brown. “I feel nothing is routine for her. She asks questions I wouldn’t expect. She looks at something from a different angle. We have a child with type 1 diabetes and we have good medical care here in Dayton. We have a wonderful primary care doctor and I totally feel confident calling her with a question,” said Leigh. “She’s very attuned to our family.”

Ryan has accepted his diabetes and understands ‘carb’ counting and insulin pumps are now part of his life. Leigh is grateful for the calm, reassuring attitude of Dr. Davis-Brown. “She makes this totally manageable and I feel we can do this.”