I was recently asked who I hold up as a diabetes hero. I began thinking of the celebrities and athletes who are in the public eye. In fact, I have an entire list of “heroes” in my book Kids First, Diabetes Second who might serve as role models for kids. And although I certainly appreciate the awareness and publicity a famous person with diabetes can bring to the cause, my mind began gravitating toward everyday people living with diabetes, whether diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child or with latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA) as an adult. I began thinking about children who thrive despite this life-changing condition, as well as parents of kids who take it on with a fierce passion to not only help their own child, but also others.
These are the true diabetes heroes.
I could list probably 50 people who I have met through the diabetes online community (DOC) who are heroes in my eyes, but I’ll share just a few.
Diabetes Hero: Manny Hernandez
Manny was diagnosed at the age of 30 in 2002. His diagnosis of type 2 diabetes was based on his age and weight, but within a few months his primary care physician sent him to an endocrinologist who confirmed that he had LADA.
In 2006, he participated in a pump users group and it was the first time that he was surrounded by others like himself. He says, “I learned so much! In the one hour I met with them I learned more than in a whole year of pumping and in four years of having diabetes.”
Manny feels that nobody with diabetes should ever feel alone, “because together we can create a powerful change in ourselves and others.” Now through the Diabetes Hands Foundation and programs such as TuDiabetes, EsTuDiabetes for Spanish speakers, and Diabetes Advocates, he aims to create an open dialogue and exchange of information and experiences among people with diabetes and their loved ones.
Diabetes Hero: Allison Nimlos
Allison was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight and is currently a newlywed 20-something. Although she was following a career path first in PR and then as a journalist writing about diabetes, she has gone back to school to become a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE).
Allison says, “I’ve always had in the back of my mind that my life with diabetes would be an asset in helping others manage their diabetes. Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed writing about diabetes and mentoring young adults and families with the disease. When I learned how few CDEs there are for the growing number of patients, plus the difficulties young adults have in particular in transitioning to their own care, I knew that this was something I needed to do.”
Allison’s first-hand experience will certainly be valuable for those patients and families she works with.
Diabetes Hero: Kerri Sparling
Kerri began showing symptoms of type 1 diabetes at the age of six and was diagnosed at seven. Kerri, along with Allison mentioned above, were the first adults with diabetes I met in real life after my own daughter’s diagnosis. As a parent of a young child, I looked to both Kerri and Allison as examples of women who had been diagnosed as children and had grown up to have successful lives. It was reassuring to see that my daughter could also go off to college, have boyfriends, travel and do all the “normal” stuff.
Kerri writes the blog Six Until Me and travels the world speaking to people affected by diabetes, sometimes with her young daughter in tow.
When I asked Kerri why she is active in the diabetes online community, she said, “Sometimes the psycho-social aspects of my diabetes need tending to as much as the physiological ones. I felt alone with diabetes for a long time and connecting with other people with diabetes helps keep my emotional health in-check alongside my A1C.”
Diabetes Heroes: Tiburon and Ethan Erickson
If I had to give only one example of someone who inspires me, it would have to be D-Mom Tiburon, whose son Ethan was diagnosed with diabetes at four years old.
She had participated in diabetes walks, as many of us do, but she felt like she could do more. So she bought a bike one February and signed up for a 100-mile JDRF ride that June.
When their local team lost their coach, she stepped up. She has been the Utah/Idaho Chapter Coach for the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes for the past two seasons and is starting her third season. She’ll do her sixth and seventh rides this year.
Her son Ethan joined her in fundraising and riding this past year. Tiburon says that seeing her son complete the ride, “was the most incredible feeling I have ever experienced. His pump shorted out and stopped working around mile 30. Had he been on any other ride, his day would have been over. He happened to be with four JDRF Coaches (three of which had type 1 diabetes) and one of them happened to have an insulin pen with one extra needle. He helped dose Ethan and got him over the finish line. He rode every single mile of that 111 miles when he had every reason to quit. It was one of the proudest moments I have ever had as a mother. He also won the Best Youth Rider jersey. It is an award bestowed on the best rider between 13-17. JDRF says the jersey goes to the rider that has a can-do attitude and is not afraid of trying what others consider impossible.”
Full-time athletes can do these types of things, but it is rare to find an ordinary mom who has not only raised a ton of money, but took on this incredible physical feat and is now training others to do the same. And Ethan is an inspiration to other young children with diabetes, because he proves that there is nothing that you can’t do.
You don’t have to be in the public eye and be known to thousands or millions of people to be a diabetes hero – all you have to do is help just one person see that they can accomplish anything they want.