Elmhurst 7th-grader makes surprising impact when sharing her Type I diabetes struggle

  • Olivia Nybo, a seventh-grade student at Immaculate Conception Grade School in Elmhurst, recently visited the third- to eighth-grade classrooms to talk about her diabetes diagnosis and explain to the students how insulin works in the body.

    Olivia Nybo, a seventh-grade student at Immaculate Conception Grade School in Elmhurst, recently visited the third- to eighth-grade classrooms to talk about her diabetes diagnosis and explain to the students how insulin works in the body. Courtesy of Kathleen Hillsman

Submitted by Kathleen Hillsman
Updated 12/13/2019 7:44 PM

On Oct. 6, 2014, when Olivia Nybo was just a second-grader at Immaculate Conception Grade School in Elmhurst, she received a diagnosis of Type I diabetes.

After experiencing constant thirst over a period of time, she and her mother, Faye, made a visit to her doctor. After some medical tests were performed, the doctor diagnosed Olivia with this life-changing disease and sent the Nybos immediately to the hospital for further testing.


After more medical testing, Olivia began the training necessary to give herself insulin shots and check her own blood sugar. Initially, she says she remembers feeling scared and confused but her parents, Faye and Chris, explained to her how lucky she was to have been diagnosed so early. They began doing extensive research about Type I diabetes and shared their knowledge in simpler terms with Olivia to alleviate her fear. Together, they mapped out a plan for returning to school and for sharing information with Olivia's classmates.

Faye came into Olivia's grade at the Elmhurst and read the students a Disney book, "Go, Team Coco!" about one of Mickey Mouse's friends who is diagnosed with Type I diabetes. She explained to the youngsters that Type I diabetes is not caused by being overweight or by eating too much sugar and that it is not contagious. Olivia and her mom met with school nurse Trish Miller, who introduced them to two other students who had Type I diabetes.

Miller reassured Olivia that she was not alone and now belonged to a new sort of family with these older students. She also introduced Faye to the students' mothers who proved to be invaluable resources.

In the years since her diagnosis, Olivia has been asked to join her doctor at Lurie Children's Hospital on a billboard campaign about diabetes and, each summer, attends a special camp for children with diabetes. During camp, Olivia has listened to friends with Type I diabetes talk about being left out or joked about by their peers.

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Recently, her mother suggested that Olivia talk to the students at Immaculate Conception Grade School about the disease so they could understand it better. Since she serves on the school's student council, Olivia proposed the idea first to student council moderator Jill VanderHye and then to Principal Cathy Linley. They fully supported the idea.

Before Thanksgiving, Olivia visited third- through eighth-grade classrooms and handed out information about Type I diabetes symptoms, treatment, and how insulin works in the body. She encouraged students to ask questions if they encounter someone with the disease rather than possibly spreading misinformation.

When Olivia returned from Thanksgiving break, she was called down to Linley's office. The principal told her that the classroom presentations had made an incredible impact. The parents of a third-grade student had notified the principal that, when their daughter came home with Olivia's handout, they decided to take her into the doctor because she was experiencing the symptoms listed on the handout. She was quickly diagnosed with Type I diabetes.

Olivia said she felt badly for the girl's diagnosis but so happy she was able to help the family identify it early. Olivia saw this younger student in the nurse's office that week and explained to her that now she is a new member of this special family of students with Type I diabetes.

When asked about how this disease has affected her life, Olivia responded, "At the time, I wondered why I had to be the one to receive such a life-changing diagnosis. As I've gotten older, I realize now that God knew I could help others who are struggling with Type I diabetes. He knew I could make a difference."

Olivia plans to walk next fall in the JDRF-Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund walk in Chicago to raise funds for research and also plans to become a JDRF Youth Ambassador for Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

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