Friday, November 15, 2013

Diabetes Awareness Month

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. We became aware of diabetes on September 19, 1997. That was the day that our then six year old son Jake was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This year the JDRF ride in Nashville was on the 16th anniversary of Jake's diagnosis date. Not exactly an anniversary to celebrate, but definitely one to be aware of (to use the word of the month).

Jake on the first day of first grade
At some point when Jake was six we noticed that he seemed to be thinner. We thought he was just getting taller and hadn't put on any weight to go with his increasing height. His mother and I were both thin at that age. He also started wetting the bed again. This hadn't been a problem since he was first potty trained. We tried positive reinforcement. If he went three nights without wetting the bed he'd get a special snack. If he was dry for six nights he got to pick out a movie to rent. This seemed to be working. A couple of months later we found out that frequent urination was one of the warning signs of Type 1.

The thing that finally tipped us off that something wasn't right was a camping trip we took in mid-September. On Sunday, as we were breaking down the campsite, Jake said he was tired and went into the tent to lay down. We took down everything around him. We even carried him out of the tent on his sleeping bag and laid him on the ground. He slept through it all. Then on the way home we stopped four times so he could go to the bathroom. It was only a two hour car ride. On Monday we took him to the doctor.

We explained Jake's behavior to the doctor and asked him run some tests. The doctor asked what type of tests we wanted. We explained that we didn't know, but that something was not right with our son. He was six and should be running and playing and full of energy. Jake was lethargic, thirsty all the time and had to use the bathroom a lot. The doctor gave Jake a physical, took some blood and urine samples, and said he would call us if they found anything. The next morning we got a call. "Jake has sugar in his urine". Questions came rushing into our heads. What does that mean? Does he have diabetes? That can't be right. We don't know anyone with diabetes. We took Jake to the DeVos Children's Hospital and spent all day learning a new way of life. How to check his blood sugar. How to give him shots of insulin. How to figure out how many carbohydrates were in different foods. Learning about keytones and "going low" and diabetic shock. Having conversations with the doctors about the dangers of complications leading to nerve damage, amputation, and blindness. You could say it wasn't exactly the best day our family ever had.

Tom and Jake (now 22) in Chicago, Spring 2013
The first year after Jake's diagnosis was a bit of a blur. There was so much to learn, so much to watch out for, so much time spent worrying about the little guy. Somewhere in that haze we found the local chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). While we hadn't found a cure, we had found a way to help a cure become a reality. JDRF is the largest private funder of Type 1 diabetes research in the world. The people at the local chapter were very helpful and encouraging. Over the next several years we would become very involved with the organization.

We put together a walk team, participated in the Gala and auction, Mary worked at the chapter as the office manager and I served on the board for six years. Then in 2005 the chapter executive director walked into a board meeting and said "I'm riding for a cure in Death Valley this fall. Who's riding with me?" That was the year we started this cycling team with about 20 people. Now almost 100 people have been part of the West Michigan team. We've ridden hundreds of thousands of miles and raised millions of dollars in donations, and we're still riding. And we will keep riding until we find a cure and we have no more need for Diabetes Awareness Month.