For most Minnesotans, it’s the winter season with basketball, hockey, Nordic skiing, downhill skiing (if you can find enough snow) and all the activities we associate with this time of year. For some of us, it’s just a time to stay warm until baseball season begins.
For our family and thousands of others it’s walk season. Not just any walk, but The Walk to Cure Diabetes at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Mall of America, sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), MinnDakotas Chapter.
Like those families, we have a special reason to participate. My wife Ann was diagnosed with Type I (insulin dependent) diabetes in 1984, just as she was finishing graduate school. Despite the many complications of diabetes, she was able to travel first to China to adopt our daughter Sadie and then to Vietnam to get Evie to make our family. The girls have never known her without serious health issues resulting from diabetes including heart problems, neuropathy or lack of feeling in her legs, a deteriorating ankle and kidney failure, to name a few.
In 2001 she had a kidney transplant (generously donated by a loving older sister) and a few weeks later a pancreas transplant (donated anonymously by someone who had died). Miraculously, she now has normal kidney function and her pancreas produces insulin so she no longer needs to take four shots a day. The transplants at the University of Minnesota stabilized her condition, but she continues to suffer from many complications and takes two dozen pills a day.
Since they were in strollers, Evie and Sadie have participated in the walk to support their mom and the thousands of other families who have loved ones with diabetes.
As many as three million people, many of them children, have Type 1 diabetes in which the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. Another 20 million, mostly adults but an increasing number of children, have Type 2, a metabolic disorder in which a person’s body still produces insulin but is unable to use it effectively.
The disease is a major contributor to kidney failure, heart attacks, nerve damage, strokes and blindness and it’s estimated that diabetes accounts for more than $170 billion in health care costs annually.
Our girls, now 16 and 13, are no longer passive participants in the walk. They help organize our team, Conroy’s Cruisers (named for Ann), cajole their friends into participating, raise money and make t-shirts, among other walk activities.
They like the excitement of the 22,000 other walkers, the bands and jugglers and sports mascots and, of course, hanging out at the Mall afterwards. But they also feel a sense of solidarity with the other families because they know what families who have members with diabetes face on a daily basis.
The walk is about taking a concrete step towards curing this dreaded affliction through research. It is about providing hope for those kids and their families that someday they won’t have to take four shots a day or check their blood sugars constantly or suffer insulin reactions or face the prospect of losing their kidney function or their eyesight. Hope that someday they can live lives just like their friends who joined them on the walk.
The goal for this year’s walk, the 20th anniversary walk, is $2.2 million. That is money for research to find a cure. Some of that research is being done at the University of Minnesota. The theme this year is, appropriately, “Make Every Step Count.”
Although she can still walk on her own, Ann often uses an electric scooter to get around places like the Mall. She’ll have the scooter at this year’s walk. She’ll use it to zoom around, which makes this year’s walk more like a Race to Cure Diabetes.
If you want to support the walk or find out more about it, go to: http://www.jdrfwalktocurediabetes.org/
For a great discussion about diabetes research, check out the MPR Midmorning site at:
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