School health screening leads to life-changing diagnosis for Anoka student

When Anoka High School sophomore Scott Springer, 16, took part in a health screening at school, he had no idea the results would be life altering.

Scott Springer, 16, took part in a health screening at Anoka High School, which led to a diabetes diagnosis.Photo submitted
Scott Springer, 16, took part in a health screening at Anoka High School, which led to a diabetes diagnosis. Photo submitted

But a concerningly high blood sugar reading ultimately led to a shocking diagnosis: Scott has Type I diabetes.

“They called me out to the hallway and told me my blood sugar was 500, which was really high, and they were going to test me again. The second time it was in the high 400s,” he said. “I didn’t really know how serious it was.”

The screening, part of the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s Healthy Student Partnership program with Allina Health, took place during his health class. Coincidentally, two days prior, Scott had given a presentation on diabetes in that same class, a topic that was randomly chosen by pulling a piece of paper out of a hat.

While researching, he noticed he had some of the same symptoms. But they were easily explained away at the time: Being thirsty and drinking a lot of water is par for the course as an athlete on the wrestling team, as is losing weight.

“Before the screening I wasn’t even thinking about it. But then looking back I realized I had the symptoms,” he said. “If it weren’t for health class, I never would have gotten checked.”

The nurse who administered his blood sugar test recommended he get to a doctor as soon as possible. Scott’s mother, Angie, said she called several clinics and there were no immediate openings. And Scott had a big wrestling meet that night — a conference title match against Coon Rapids — that he didn’t want to miss while waiting in an emergency room.

Outwardly he seemed perfectly fine, so they let him compete in his meet, said Scott’s father, Todd, a special education teacher and head wrestling coach at Anoka High School.

“Somebody with levels like that still looks normal, and he didn’t have a ton of symptoms,” he said.

He won, but he seemed really tired during his match, Todd said.

As soon as the meet was over, Scott used the blood sugar monitor of his teammate’s father to do a quick check. Once again, it was over 500.

“We took him right to Children’s Hospital and ended up staying there for the weekend,” Angie said.

The family knew very little about diabetes before Scott’s diagnosis, Todd said, and got a crash course while he was in the hospital. “Our whole world is now based on how many carbs are in things,” Angie said.

Scott now has to prick his finger up to six times a day to check his blood sugar levels, and inject himself with insulin into his stomach several times a day.

Bad news for someone who has always had a fear of needles.

“It was kind of creepy, hearing everything I had to do, but I knew I could do it,” he said. “I just had to get used to it, because I have to do it every day. It’s not that bad now.”

Angie Springer said he’s handling it like a champ. “He is doing phenomenal,” she said. “As a mother, I want to hover over him and do everything for him, but for a 16-year-old boy, he’s doing fantastic. I can’t believe how well he’s dealing with this because it’s life changing. This will be for the rest of his life.”

This is not the first time the district’s Healthy Student Partnership program proved invaluable to a student and his family: A few years ago, a high blood pressure reading led to the diagnosis of a congenital heart problem and emergency surgery for another Anoka student. The doctors said at the time that if not for the screening that led to the surgery, that student could have had a tragic outcome.

“We think it’s a highly successful program,” said Jeff McGonigal, associate superintendent for secondary schools in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. “It is very unique, and I wish it wasn’t. I wish other districts were doing it. At this point, we’re the only ones I know of for sure.”

The program, which tests blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, began about 20 years ago at Anoka and Coon Rapids high schools and expanded to the district’s other high schools about six years ago, he said. It’s funded by donations from organizations such as the Lions Club, the Allina Foundation and Connexus Energy.

“In health class, we talk about cholesterol and ‘know your numbers,’” he said. “But we thought it would be much more impactful if students knew their personal numbers, rather than just numbers in a textbook that they were trying to understand to do well on a test.”

The Springers said they are incredibly thankful for the program, which caught Scott’s diabetes relatively early.

“I’m very grateful,” Angie Springer said. “He could have gotten really, really sick.”

Todd agreed. “We would have caught it eventually, but it could have been much worse,” he said. “We’re such large district. If we can just get one student diagnosed a year, boy is it worth it.”