Sometimes diabetes can seem like a monster to a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes. It looks over us at night – and every second of every day.
It's obviously not only us parents, but the kids themselves that feel like they are being chased by a forever monster. No one likes having type 1 diabetes, but as a kid (especially a teen) it can be very hard. I am writing this, because today a family is sitting in a hospital room praying that their 17-year-old son recovers from a self-inflicted insulin overdose. He's not an addict, yet is overdosing on the very medication that keeps him alive.
Answering the door at 3:00 AM to find the police there is every parent’s worst nightmare. They asked to talk to their son. Thankfully he sent a text to a friend and that friend (an angel to the family) saved his life by calling 911.
So now the real work begins. Saving his life was a Godsend and now trying to get him to accept the disease is the challenge. He wasn't diagnosed yesterday, is a good kid and loves his family. They didn't expect this. NEVER expected this.
Their son's personality sounds a lot like my son Joey. He is a homebody who loves spending time with his family, yet is at the age where he wants me to cut the ties. He is confident with his type 1 diabetes when he’s with his buddies and around familiar faces. The funny thing is, his message to other kids with type 1 diabetes is, "Don't be embarrassed by type 1, you didn't ask for it. Just be yourself and your friends will like you for who you are."
|Joey Balistrieri has become a role model for other children with type 1 diabetes.
However, I have noticed that when he’s in a situation where there are kids around that aren't aware he has type 1 diabetes, he becomes reserved. Yet, other times he can be so confident. As an ADA Ambassador, he spoke in front of hundreds this past year.
A radio personality that interviewed Joey told me he was very impressed by him, being such a young man with so much wisdom. I am very proud of Joey's convictions with raising diabetes awareness.
Now how do I help him remain confident? No kid wants to be different.
Empowering Others with Diabetes
We know another family whose son has type 1 diabetes. He was diagnosed as a toddler and is now 16 and having major issues with "having" type 1 diabetes. I ran into his mom at a function and she told me he was having a very hard time and not being responsible with counting carbs, insulin dosing and all the necessary steps to staying healthy with type 1 diabetes. He has never been approved for an insulin pump by his Endo, because he won't take the time to log his numbers, or as she said, take care of himself.
I asked her if we could help and suggested having her son join me and Joey at one of our events, so he could be inspired by a professional athlete, famous race car driver, rock star or doctor talking about advances in the search for a cure. Her response to me almost put me on the ground. I was speechless - my mouth probably hit the floor. She said, "He doesn't want to be defined by his diabetes." Now to me, this was a personal attack on my parenting skills. I felt like she was saying, "Why are you putting Joey out there to constantly be talking about diabetes, blah, blah, blah." This made me think. Is Joey being defined by diabetes and, if so, am I responsible?
I shared this experience with a few colleagues to get a different perspective. The overall consensus was that children with type 1 diabetes have a lot to deal with. Although, to be successful in life with type 1, they have to learn to take control of the disease. And by attending events hosted by the American Diabetes Association and other diabetes groups, they are empowering themselves. It's a good opportunity for them to connect with others who can provide assistance, new ideas and inspiration. By ignoring the issue and pretending it doesn't exist, our friend’s son is holding himself back! We plan on reaching out to him until he says yes to attending an ADA event with us, praying that he will be inspired.
Inspiration from Other People with Diabetes
Because of Joey's tenacity, he met Jake Byrne, a former college football player with diabetes who is now playing for the San Diego Chargers. Jake has been more than a mentor to Joey. He's become a family friend who, as a professional football player, inspires us every time he’s on the football field. It's so important for kids to have someone to look up to and, when the kid has type 1 diabetes and the person that inspires him also has type 1, it's pretty special.
Joey has also met a lot of kids with type 1 diabetes just like himself, who are embracing the disease and making excellent choices regarding their own health.
So, to answer my own question, no, Joey is NOT being defined by type 1 diabetes. He is facing it head on and helping others do the same.