Siena B Pediatric Care Inspires Teen to Advocate for Diabetes Awareness

“Maybe others will think, ‘Wow, she’s really confident about that — I should be confident, too.’”

Everyone expects changes when puberty hits. But the changes Siena Branch of Marlboro experienced when she turned 12 seemed bewildering. First she put on 30 pounds. Then she mysteriously lost the weight in the span of a month.

She was also tired all the time and couldn’t drink enough water to quench her thirst. “I was going through several gallon jugs a day,” says Siena, now 17 and a high school junior.

At a routine doctor’s visit, she finally found out what was wrong. Her pediatrician discovered Siena had Type 1 diabetes, sometimes called juvenile diabetes. She also had a potentially life-threatening complication called diabetic ketoacidosis, in which the body lacks enough of the hormone insulin to allow energy-providing blood glucose into cells.

Siena was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC), where she received insulin to bring her glucose levels to normal as she and her shaken mother, Tricia, tried to process her diagnosis.

“I thought my life will never be the same,” Siena remembers. “I was scared and also angry. Why was this happening to me?”

Frank Barrows, DO
Frank Barrows, DO

They began to feel more at ease when they spoke with Frank Barrows, DO, Chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at MMC’s Unterberg Children’s Hospital, and certified diabetes care and education specialist Lisa Ball-O’Brien, LSW, CDCES, who provided a backpack filled with information and a teddy bear named Rufus—the mascot of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

They helped reassure Siena and Tricia that the disease can successfully be managed. With Type 1 diabetes, the body stops making insulin, and daily injections or an insulin pump are required to survive. Getting the right amount is a balancing act.

“I didn’t really know what diabetes was,” Siena says. “Lisa explained what I had to do, about finger pricks [to monitor blood levels of glucose], insulin shots and counting carbs.”

Siena and her family, which also includes her father, Dave, and 14-year-old brother, Andrew, have had ups and downs, but have fared well with help from the MMC diabetes team.

“Without their support, I don’t know what we would have done—truly amazing people, and we are so thankful for them and all the hospital staff we’ve interacted with over these past 17 years,” says Tricia, who notes that both her children were born at MMC.

Siena now uses a continuous glucose monitoring system and an insulin pump to keep her blood glucose levels in range. “We couldn’t be happier with her excellent glycemic control, positive outlook and diabetes advocacy,” says Dr. Barrows.

A Wealth of Subspecialties

Dr. Barrows is among a number of pediatric subspecialists available at the new Anne Vogel Family Care and Wellness Center in Eatontown. Other subspecialty services for children at the center include cardiology, gastroenterology, pulmonology and infectious diseases.

The facility also includes the LiveWell Center, which incorporates the WEforum Demonstration Kitchen featuring Dorothea and Jon Bon Jovi Nutrition Education Programs, where patients, families and members of the community can learn wellness practices such as preparing healthier foods or eating with chronic conditions like diabetes.

The combination of services makes the Vogel Center ideally positioned to care for complex needs of patients like Siena. “Having all this under one roof is very beneficial to our patients,” says Dr. Barrows.

A multidisciplinary approach allows pediatric care at the Vogel Center to be well coordinated and convenient for families while drawing on deep levels of expertise in a range of subspecialties, says Jonathan Teitelbaum, MD, Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology and interim Chair of Pediatrics. “We manage patients more effectively when we can all get together and discuss cases in person,” Dr. Teitelbaum says.

Crowning Achievements

Type 1 Diabetes Patient, Siena Branch

Siena has made it her mission to help other children dealing with Type 1 diabetes. She helped start an organization called Team Diabeasties to support kids like herself. As a youth ambassador for JDRF, she visits school groups to read stories about mascot Rufus.

She recently was crowned Miss Ramapo Valley’s Outstanding Teen with diabetes awareness as her social impact initiative, proudly exposing the insulin pump on her upper arm during the competition—a signal that diabetes is nothing to be shy about. “Maybe others will think, ‘Wow, she’s really confident about that—I should be confident, too,’” she says.

“Siena is truly inspiring,” says Dr. Barrows.

“We always talk about how, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” Tricia says. “Siena is using her experience for good.”

Anne Vogel Family Care and Wellness Center Ribbon Cutting

Opening Doors at The Anne Vogel Family Care and Wellness Center

Philanthropist Sheldon Vogel cuts the ceremonial ribbon dedicating the Anne Vogel Family Care and Wellness Center with (from left) Anthony Talerico, Jr., Eatontown Mayor; Danielle M. Jones, Councilwoman; Eric Carney, President and CEO, Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) and Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus; Claire Knopf, Foundation Board Chair, MMC; and Matthew B. McDonald, III, MD, President and CEO, Children’s Specialized Hospital.

Specialized Gastroenterology Care for Children and Youth

Among the highly specialized pediatric services at the Anne Vogel Family Care and Wellness Center is the pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition program, part of the Children’s Health Network at RWJBarnabas Health, which focuses on diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the stomach, intestinal tract, colon, liver and pancreas.

Dedicated pediatric gastroenterologists care for newborns through adolescents suffering from common and complex digestive problems, such as colic, esophageal disorders and reflux, celiac disease, diarrhea, chronic constipation, vomiting, recurrent abdominal pain and ulcers.

Pediatric gastroenterologists with the program include:

Jonathan Teitelbaum, MD
Jonathan Teitelbaum, MD
Areas of Interest:
Allergic disease; inflammatory bowel disease; abdominal pain; celiac disease; constipation; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Dr. Teitelbaum is the first pediatric physician in New Jersey to perform an Endoflip procedure, in which catheter-based, balloon-mounted sensors help doctors better diagnose and treat esophageal disorders.
Alexander Schosheim, MD
Alexander Schosheim, MD
Areas of Interest:
Functional abdominal pain disorders; GERD; constipation; celiac disease; inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis).
Rami Arrouk, MD
Rami Arrouk, MD
Areas of Interest:
Abdominal pain; constipation; celiac disease; eosinophilic esophagitis; inflammatory bowel disease; irritable bowel syndrome; GERD; liver disease.

Learn more about the Anne Vogel Family Care and Wellness Center.