Alyse Nichols is soft-spoken and can seem a bit shy - until the petite 13 year old puts on her journalist hat and stands up to ask a question at a press conference.
Alyse, a student at Hope Partnership for Education middle school, has been a health reporter for her school newspaper, The Healthy Hope, for the past few years. The Healthy Hope is part of Healthy NewsWorks, a program in 14 area schools that trains student journalists to report on health and wellness issues in their schools and communities.
Alyse had researched and written articles about how changing eating habits and increasing exercise can increase overall health and improve symptoms of chronic diseases. So when she learned that her '"nana" Debbie Dantzler, had diabetes, she knew that it was a serious illness.
"I'd heard that a lot of people had passed away over diabetes," she says. "I love my nana so much. I don't want her to pass away."
Alyse began encouraging her grandmother to make the kind of lifestyle changes that would help manage the disease. They cut out sugary soft drinks and Alyse made sure that her grandmother monitored her blood sugar carefully, ate on schedule and always had her medications handy. She also encouraged Dantzler to pay attention to portion size, an important factor in managing diabetes.
"I will let her know that's too much," she says. "You've gotta take something off your plate."
They also amped up their exercise routine by taking walks in the park after school and adding frisbee and badminton to their activites.
"I joined a YMCA recently," says Dantzler. "[Alyse] has a membership with me, so she'll go with me."
At the Y, they both enjoy water aerobics classes. The buoyant low impact workout helps Dantzler avoid injuries. Alyse enjoys swimming and the opportunity to spend more time with her nana.
Dantzler's diabetes is difficult to control. It left her disabled and she was forced to give up a 25-year career in telecommunications.
"It's really been up and down for me," she says. "Things I used to do, I can no longer do, or I'm limited."
Her granddaughter Alyse supports her through the tough days and helps her keep moving forward.
"Alyse has really inspired me to not give up," says Dantzler.
"The only thing I know is I've gotta be by her side the whole time," says Alyse. "And make sure she's doing OK."
Dantzler is aware that diabetes often runs in families and hopes that her children and grandchildren will not be affected with the disease that has taken so much from her.
"I don't want her to go through what I go through. So I'm glad she is taking an initiative to learn about my health problems," says Dantzler. "I'm praying that she never has to deal with this."
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