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Parents get belly tattoos to support son on insulin pump for Type 1 diabetes

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Some parents get tattoos of their child's name, but Philippe Aumond and Camille Boivin went one better.

In a show of solidarity, they each have an image of an insulin pump tattooed on their abdomens, declaring that they are "forever linked" to their son Jacob.

"It is a great thing for him, and we were thrilled just to see his smile when he saw those pumps. It made our day, that's for sure," said Boivin, 36, from the family's home in La Sarre, Que.

A while back, Jacob, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 3 1/2, was excited by the idea of getting an insulin pump that would replace four to five injections a day, and he figured it would be like having his own little robot working for him.

When it was delivered, he was "just like a kid on Christmas Eve with his gift," and even slept with it before it was plugged into him, said Boivin.

Jacob is now five and in kindergarten, and he wears it 24-7.

"He adapted pretty quick, but one time he told me that he felt different and he was wondering if he was alone in the world, you know, wearing a pump," Boivin said.

She explained to him that every child is different — some wear glasses, others are in wheelchairs, some have blue eyes, others have brown eyes.

"So he got that, but still, you know, he is a kid. He was four at the time, so he wants to be like everybody else," Boivin explained.

"Before we had the pump, I think the way he felt is that having shots was just a little part of his day and nobody had to know. But then now, he was wearing a pump, and people could see it and people were asking questions and I think that's what bothered him a little bit. So he felt really alone."

She and Aumond decided to get tattoos of the pump, "because no parents want to have their child feel left out or alone."

"We shopped around to find a good tattoo artist because we wanted this pump to be really representative of the real thing — we didn't want just to have a patch of black ink on us," Boivin said.

"We found this guy, and he is a great tattoo artist, so he did those pumps for us and they look great, and Jacob was really thrilled when he saw that.

"And since then, each time people talk to him about his pump, he always lifts up my shirt and says, 'Look, my mom has one too.'"

Boivin had had one previous tattoo a long time ago, and Aumond, 47, has a few, but she said they're not the type of people who get inked from head to toe.

"Really, the idea came really for Jacob."

A friend had a posting about the tattoos on her blog and the makers of the device, Medtronic, saw it and invited the family to attend the company's party in Brampton, Ont., this Friday.

Medtronic's annual holiday program started more than 50 years ago, and allows patients to "show and tell" employees about the impact of various medical devices on their lives.

Boivin said there aren't a lot of people with Type 1 diabetes in their area of northwestern Quebec, and only one person they know has an insulin pump.

"She's an adult, so Jacob doesn't really relate to her yet. But then to see a lot of people wearing pumps in Toronto, I think it's going to be very interesting for him, and he's going to be very happy to be there, I'm sure," Boivin said.

Despite the pump, there is still a lot involved in managing Jacob's condition.

Boivin said the device needs to be programmed.The family also has to count the carbs Jacob is eating, and then the pump can calculate how much insulin to provide. The school checks his blood sugar regularly and calls home so that Boivin can tell them how much snack to give him.

Insulin pumps aren't cheap. Boivin said they paid $6,800 for the pump and another $700 for a continuous glucose monitoring system. Ongoing costs are $500 a month.

She held a fundraiser, selling $5 wristbands with the words "Together for Jacob" written in French, and raised $14,269.

The family bought the insulin pump and three months' worth of supplies, and then gave the leftover money to another mother who needed a pump for her child, and to a summer camp for kids with diabetes.

"We got a lot of love, we got a lot of money, and we could get the pump, and it was great," Boivin said. "We try to turn everything about diabetes as positive as possible."

In addition, she has reached out to people in a similar situation on her blog and created a support group for parents. Twenty families rented cabins for a summertime meet-up weekend, and they plan to do it again, Boivin said.

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