The difference a family can make

“When my daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, I promised her I would find a cure … my daughter is now an adult and I still don’t have that cure for her.”

– Pat Ryan, Spring Point board president and CEO of Ryan Companies

If you look at the Spring Point board, it is comprised of a group of successful businesspeople. Several are parents of children with Type 1 diabetes and these parents are doing everything in their power to make their children’s lives better.

The Spring Point Project goal is a world without diabetes, a world where monitoring and daily insulin injections are no longer a part of anyone’s life.

Many of you understand diabetes is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year illness. But we thought it important to reinforce how living with this chronic illness truly feels, the struggles that a family goes through in dealing with the diagnosis, and the successes a family can share – because diabetes affects the whole family.

The following is based on a conversation Kathy Gold had with Pat Ryan’s wife, Ann, and daughter, Mo. They share about what life has been like from both perspectives – living with diabetes and living with someone with diabetes.

Ann and Mo were very gracious and willing to share their stories. It is important to note that the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes was so life-changing, almost 20 years later they still vividly recall the details.

Mo is the youngest of five children and was in third grade, 9 years old, loving school and a real social butterfly – nicknamed Mighty, Mighty Mo. She started to complain about headaches and being nauseated. Ann took her to the pediatrician who was unable to find anything wrong.

While on a spring break in Florida, Mo was in and out of the pool because she had to keep going to the bathroom and was always thirsty. Ann noticed that Mo seemed to be losing weight. On the plane ride home, the airline showed a promotional spot that Mary Tyler Moore did for JDRF in which she talked about the symptoms of diabetes. One of Mo’s sisters piped up, “Hey Mom, I think that must be what is wrong with Mo.”

When they arrived home, the pediatrician confirmed the diagnosis.

From the beginning, Mo wanted to take care of her diabetes … she didn’t want any help. She tested her own blood sugar and gave herself the insulin injections. At the hospital, the nurse made Ann and Pat give themselves a saline injection so they, too, would know what it was like. When they got home, all of the kids gave themselves an injection.

Mo remembers that after taking her first injection, it was the first time – in a very long time – that she could remember sleeping through the night without getting up to use the bathroom.

There was no family history of diabetes, so this diagnosis came from nowhere. As a nurse, Ann knew what it meant … she had a sense of what lay ahead for Mo. Ann also recalled how the only thing that Mo wanted after her diagnosis was some of the food models that were shared with her during her diabetes education class. Mo loved playing with those food models and her American Girl doll that also “needed” insulin injections.

This is the attitude exemplified by this family: Yes, Mo had diabetes, but they would deal with it. And Mo would have a normal life.

Mo has had many wonderful experiences and diabetes did not slow her down one bit. She traveled to Thailand while she was in high school for a mission project. She was excited about going on her own, but Ann said she and Pat just couldn’t let her travel that far alone, so they booked a trip to Thailand at the same time. When they broke the news to Mo, they promised she would not see them unless she needed them. Her friends teased her when they met in the airport but Ann and Pat kept their word, and Mo had a wonderful time washing elephants for 10 days halfway around the world.

Mo is a skier, rides horseback, windsurfs and paddle boards. She is living, with diabetes.

Mo loves psychology and helping other people, so it was no surprise when, after hearing about one of her professor’s mission trips to Haiti, she decided that she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a nurse where she would be able to help people in other countries.

She now works as an ER pediatric nurse and I couldn’t help but think: how lucky for parents of a newly diagnosed child with diabetes to meet Mo … how reassuring it must be to see that living a full and normal life is possible.

Mo shared that she can now fully appreciate the effort her parents put into keeping her both healthy and grounded. She has never been hospitalized with a problem from her diabetes – although she has had three episodes of hypoglycemia … every parent’s nightmare.

When asked about her father’s involvement in the Spring Point Project and his efforts to raise money for a cure, Mo said she was proud and grateful for his efforts. He keeps her current on the latest research, but she also said she realizes that tomorrow there may be a cure – yet she is not holding her dad to his promise.

How fortunate the world is to have people who are so committed and hopeful. Yes, life has presented obstacles, but this family has overcome them. I think a quote by Helen Keller says it best: “The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”