New technology helps teen musician deal with diabetes

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 20, 2012 at 10:28 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 21 at 11:16 AM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- She's performed at the House of Blues and has been asked to perform at this year's Jazz Fest. A Northshore teen is hoping to make it big in the pop music industry, but she was concerned that a serious health condition would stop her from her dream.

Now state-of-the-art technology is helping her get there.

Since she was a little girl 16-year-old Rici Jo Rachal knew she wanted to perform.

"Me and my sister would not just sing. We would, like, act and put on little shows in like the living room for my family and friends," Rici said.

So Rici and her little sister Stevie Rae took acting and singing lessons in New Orleans. Then two years ago they entered a competition in Las Vegas, met agents and spent five months in California working with music producers and going to acting, singing and hip-hop dance school.

Rici made a CD and wrote some of the lyrics. Out of that came a music video and website.

"Rici said, 'This is what I want to do more than anything,'" remembers her father, Ronnie Rachal.

But while fulfilling her dream of performing, there's reality. She's a sophomore at Northlake Christian School in Covington. And like any teen, good grades are expected by adults, while the teens expect to be accepted and have a social life with their friends.

But a few years ago when she was 12, something went terribly wrong.

"I was really tired and I would always, like, wake up like literally like nine times in the middle of the night and use the bathroom and have like really dry mouth and always thirsty. And I would like check out (from school) like five times a week like literally every day and I would like go home and sleep and eat," she said.

"She was losing a lot of weight. She started getting the black circles around her eyes and she just really sick and missing a lot of school and she was urinating a lot," said Ronnie.

One day it was too much to handle. She went to the doctor, who sent her to Children's Hospital in New Orleans.

"As a parent, you know, I was really depressed. I mean, it ate my lunch because you know my children's, my babies. So it really got me down. I was depressed for days," said Ronnie as his eyes teared up.

"I didn't think I'd have a normal life. I was like discouraged. I like candy so I was pretty upset about that," said Rici.

The diagnosis was type 1 diabetes. For some reason, her genetics, a virus, something in the environment or even a combination of all those triggered her immune system to turn on her own insulin-making cells, attack and kill them as if they were invading germs.

"If you want to know what a diabetic feels like, just imagine an uncontrolled diabetic is like somebody who skips meals for two or three days at a time. And it's also if you only drank two or three cups of water to stay alive, and that's it," explained Rici's doctor, Dr. Victor Pouw, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's International Medical Group in Lacomb, Louisiana.

Untreated, the lifelong condition can destroy your eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.

So for years Rici checked her blood sugar and gave herself insulin injections.

"Four times a day I'd have to take a shot and then like I would get like bruises like on my stomach and on my arms. It was like really embarrassing. I'd have to like lift up my shirt in front of people and that was really uncomfortable," Rici remembers.

But now Rici is using the latest technology called the OmniPod.

A tubeless, discreet pump that she can hide gives her the insulin she needs. She checks her blood sugar with a finger stick and then programs a remote device that looks like a cell phone.

And it constantly gives her a more accurate dose of insulin than injections. She can swim with it and hide it anywhere on her body.

"It's made a big difference. I can hide it easier. I don't have to like show people like if I wear like a tank top, I can like wear my pod like on my stomach or if I'm wearing a skirt, I can wear it on my leg so nobody will see it and people won't even know. It's just like I'm a normal kid," she said.

And that gives he the confidence at school and on stage.

Rici has worked her way up in the music industry to where a performance coach and choreographer flies in from Los Angeles a week before she has a performance. They rehearse along with back-up dancers before she goes on stage.

She gets the danger of not being diligent about checking her glucose. She's watched her grandmother's health decline with diabetes. So she can't be like other teens, but unlike other teens, she already knows what she wants to do when she grows up -- perform.

Rici's entire family went on the same diabetes-type diet to support her and make it easier for her not to be tempted to eat the wrong foods.

For more information on OmniPod, click here. And for Rici's Facebook page, click here.

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