Published on November 01, 2016

Winona girl meets adversity head on

Willa Case and mom

Willa Krase and her mom, Jill, of Winona, Minn.

It was Halloween 2013 and 9-year-old Willa Krase of Winona, Minn., was looking forward to trick-or-treating as a mummy. But the day turned out far more frightening for Willa and her family.

"For weeks Willa had been cranky, exhausted and extremely hungry and thirsty. We thought she was having a growth spurt and early teenager attitude," recall her parents, Jill and Ethan Krase. "Eventually we knew something was wrong and took Willa to our pediatrician."

The news they got was life changing. With blood sugar levels more than twice the normal level, Willa was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. They were sent directly to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, where Willa remained hospitalized for four days.

With type 1 diabetes, the body doesn't produce insulin. Insulin helps move glucose (sugar) into the body's tissues. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood leading to dehydration, weight loss, life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis and potential damage to nerves and blood vessels in the eyes, kidneys, feet and heart.

"After that first insulin shot, Willa thought she was cured. At first, she didn't understand she'd need insulin injections the rest of her life," Jill remembers.

But Gundersen diabetes educators worked with Willa and her family to help them understand all aspects of living with diabetes.

"Willa's dad and I were so bad at doing finger-pokes to test her blood sugar levels that Willa soon started doing them herself. Willa also insisted on telling her class at school everything she knew about diabetes. It was very brave of her," recount her parents proudly.

The first several months following her diagnosis were stressful as Willa and her family learned to adapt to a disease that requires a lot of attention. They returned to Gundersen many times for follow-up care and to begin insulin pump therapy. The insulin pump delivers steady doses of insulin, rather than depending on frequent insulin injections. Now 13 years old, Willa is living well with diabetes and manages her daily diabetes tasks, needing little help from her parents.

For the past three years, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals®, a service of Gundersen Medical Foundation, has helped Willa attend diabetes camp. "It's the only sleep-away camp Willa can safely attend, and there she can do all the things other kids do without being too distracted by diabetes," Jill explains.

The Krases say, "Having children with serious chronic diseases is stressful, especially when the diseases need to be managed every day with no breaks…ever. Having CMN Hospitals reach out with help has been very uplifting."

Grateful for the support, Willa is now a 2016-17 CMN Hospitals Hero, raising funds and awareness to help other children struggling with illnesses and injuries. You can help too—visit gundersenhealth.org/cmnhospitals or call (608) 775-4424.