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Published on February 07, 2020

Asher Zurbriggen with provider

Care across the system

A West Union, Iowa, Emergency Room clinician, specialists at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, and parents with a strong instinct and faith in God converged to save 6-year-old Asher Zurbriggen in March 2019.

In the days before, his mother, Renessa, reports that Asher had not been feeling well or acting like himself. She thought Asher had the flu or a cold— typical kid stuff. But his condition didn't improve after a couple days.

On that fateful day, Asher didn't want to get out of bed.

"He was vomiting and very lethargic," his mom remembers.

She knew it was time to seek medical help and took Asher to Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospital and Clinics in West Union, Iowa, minutes from the family's home in Elgin.

"On our way to the hospital I asked God to give the doctors the wisdom to know what was wrong with Asher and what to do to make him healthy," Renessa says.

In the emergency department, Lana Schmitt, NP, immediately went to work to stabilize Asher and find answers.

"I believe God heard our prayers," Renessa adds. "I mentioned to Lana that I thought Asher had been losing weight over the past few weeks despite being hungry and thirsty all the time. I had assumed it was because of a growth spurt."

This was the clue Lana needed. A blood sugar test detected type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed in children, is a life-long and potentially life-threatening condition. The body does not produce the insulin needed to move blood sugar (glucose) into cells where it is stored and used for energy.

The Hospital in West Union is part of the larger Tri-state Gundersen Health System, which means patients like Asher have access to specialized care across the system. Pediatric diabetes specialists at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis., confirmed the diagnosis and provided expert care.

"Asher stayed in the hospital for three days," Renessa says. "God put the right staff in the right place to help us. The diabetes educators met with us and they were tremendous. They were very patient and answered all our questions. To this day I can call them or contact them through MyCare if I have questions or concerns."

Gundersen's specially trained diabetes educators worked with Asher and his family to come up with a plan to manage his diabetes. This includes nutrition planning, blood glucose monitoring, insulin injections and lifestyle modifications.

"A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes requires an extreme lifestyle change for any child," says Asher's local primary care provider, Sam Brauer, PA. "Asher has done well accepting this and is working with his parents and his care team for daily control of his diabetes."

Gundersen diabetes specialists Kathleen Marquart, MD, and Morgan Grabinoski, RN, NP, also have regular contact with Asher—including outreach visits at the Gundersen Decorah Clinic—to monitor his diabetes.

The diabetes specialists in La Crosse remain in contact with Asher's primary care provider in West Union.

"I receive an update every time Asher is seen in La Crosse or at an outreach visit. I review these updates and contact the clinicians if I have any further input or questions," Sam reports.

Asher picking out gum

Asher wants kids to know that if they are ever diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they can still be just like other kids. He should know. Asher enjoys playing, school, sports and many other activities—just like a typical kid.

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