DARLINGTON – November 14 is a special day for me. Not only is it the day before my birthday, but it is also World Diabetes Day and having lived with the Type 1 diabetes for 11 years, it is something that I would like to be recognized and celebrated.
Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is a condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. An average of 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes every year with an estimated 1.25 million Americans living with it today. About $14 billion in health care costs and lost income are accumulated each year, which can put a strain on everyone in the family. To help combat that strain, stress and the unknown, a diabetic patient can purchase a Diabetic Alert Dog.
That is where Darlington residents Lexi Graham and Colton Ruf come into the picture.
Lexi, daughter of Brian and Bridget Schilling and Adam and Amanda Graham and Colton, son of Jadin and Heather Ruf, have known each other since they were little.
“Colton’s grandma has watched me since I was three-weeks-old. She watched me until I was 8 or 9. When he grew up, we grew up together. We are just really close family friends,” Lexi explained.
Lexi remembers the intense week eight years ago when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Influenza had been going around. Type 1 diabetes transpires when your immune system is fighting an infection and attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells instead of the virus. She was experiencing diabetic symptoms such as extreme thirst and urination, but the family thought she was coming down with the flu.
She went to her father’s home in Spring Green and her symptoms got worse, experiencing stomach pains and getting physically sick. At around 2 a.m., she became quiet and her father found her unconscious. She was taken to the emergency room in Dodgeville.
“The ER doctor took one look at me and asked my dad ‘is your daughter diabetic?’ and he said no and the doctor said ‘well she is now’. Took one look at me, smelled my breath and said she is a diabetic,” Lexi remembers.
Due to her extreme dehydration, they tried to give her an IV via a central line and ended up hitting her lung, causing her lung to deflate. They MedFlighted her to the UW Children’s Hospital in Madison where she went into a diabetic coma for two days.
She doesn’t remember much. She was in the hospital for a week.
“I remember not knowing what to think. I hated shots. You had to hold me down to get them. I was kind of at a loss of words. All I thought was I’m a 10-year-old kid that has to do shots for the rest of her life and prick her finger. I’m just going to do it,” Lexi said.
She said it really “sucked” at first but now at 18-years-old, it has become second nature.
After having the disease for so long, she wanted to help bring some awareness to it. Her friends told her she should sell bracelets. She looked into ordering bracelets with the colors associated with diabetes (the color blue in the shape of a circle) but didn’t really fit because people didn’t understand it.
“I told my mom that I wanted to do bracelets but I didn’t know who to give the money to. My mom said that Colton really needed a dog and that became just perfect. I’m raising this money and giving it to Colton so he can get his dog,” Lexi added.
Colton, 13, was diagnosed almost two years ago but not as dramatically as Lexi.
He was on vacation in Florida and remembers hitting up every bathroom and drinking fountain he could find.
“My mom and grandma knew something was wrong,” Colton said.
When they got back home, his mom set him up with a doctor’s appointment and there they were sent straight to Madison where he spent two days in the hospital learning the ins and outs of diabetes.
“I was different. Everyone was coming in and saying you are going to be doing all this stuff now,” Colton remembers after the initial shock wore off from his life changing forever.
Like any parent, you want to find a way to help you child and that is what Heather Ruf started doing. She did some research and came in contact with a place called Diabetic Alert Dogs of America. Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to alert diabetic people in advance of their low or high blood sugar events before they become dangerous.
The training is an intensive 4 to 12 week course that is designed to give the dog skills in basic obedience, public access exposure and scent detection with an active alert signal.
The cost of the dog is around $15,000.
“We are about half way with the help of Lexi,” Heather stated. “What Lexi is doing is amazing but most of all spreading the awareness is the most important thing. Colton having this dog will help give him the security and comfort that he needs to feel safe, when sleeping at night or when he is old enough and moves out on his own.”
In wanting to raise awareness for a disease that impacts several people, Lexi has helped out a fellow friend in the process. As much as people recognize organizations like Relay for Life, Lexi hopes people will also recognize diabetes organizations like Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
You too can help raise awareness and help Colton get a Diabetic Alert Dog by purchasing a bracelet from Lexi by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.