As part of our fundraising efforts on Giving Tuesday, we introduced a t-shirt that benefits an organization called One to None, which focuses on research for type 1 diabetes. This organization was founded by Alabama Chanin friend Martha Taylor Johnson, whose son lives with type 1 diabetes. In order to better understand the disease, we spoke with Martha Taylor, who provided us with insight on the disease, managing it, and how people can help.
AC: Your charity One to None focuses on type 1 diabetes. Can you give us some background on why you chose to focus on this disease?
MTJ: My son Drew was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was three years old, shortly after we had moved back from London to Florence, Alabama, and I had our second child Vivienne. Following his diagnosis on December 1, 2014, everything was a whirlwind, half of which is a blur. Drew and so many others with Type 1 continue to amaze me with their resilience and determination to not let Type 1 keep them from achieving any of their goals in life. He never gets a break, so I gain my strength from him. Although type 1 diabetes is a huge part of our lives, it is still just a fraction of who he is and we cannot allow his diagnosis to dictate his future. One to None’s goal is to raise money for research for type 1 diabetes and to provide financial assistance to those who need help through fashion, fitness, and food.
AC: When did you decide to become an activist for this disease?
MTJ: My professional background as a nurse prepared me to take care of my son. However, I felt like there was still so much that I could do for others living with Type 1. I have always felt so lucky to have had the support of family and friends, as well as the financial means to properly handle type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. I can vividly remember in the diabetes training class that we attended at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), there was a single mother there with her 4-year-old son. She was alone with her son, missing work, and wasn’t sure if her child’s daycare was up to the task of caring for her son. I still think about that situation today and wonder how she and her son have coped. Also, one of the first questions they will ask at every doctor visit is “when was your last visit to the emergency room?”. A trip to the ER for many type 1 diabetics is fairly common and one that I hope my son never has to experience.
AC: Can you explain a couple of basic differences between types 1 and 2 diabetes?
MTJ: That is such a great question! You would be surprised by how many people do not know the difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2. Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas. The beta cells in the pancreas produce the hormone insulin, which is a hormone that allows the body to use glucose for energy. Insulin controls the body’s blood sugar levels so they do not get too high or too low. Since people with type 1 diabetes do not have a properly functioning pancreas, they are therefore insulin dependent. Currently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes and the person is insulin dependent for life. This means frequent blood sugar checks and insulin injections around the clock. People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance. The body still produces insulin but it is unable to use it effectively. The research is not clear as to why some people develop an insulin resistance and others do not, but several lifestyle factors may contribute such as excess weight and inactivity.
AC: What are some of the symptoms of the disease?
MTJ: We first noticed extreme thirst and frequent urination with Drew. Thankfully, we caught his symptoms early and were able to begin treatment prior to him developing Diabetic Ketoacidosis [a serious complication of diabetes]. Other symptoms of type 1 diabetes include extreme hunger, fatigue, blurry vision, cuts or sores that don’t heal properly, unintentional weight loss, irritability, and mood changes.
AC: Are there things about Type 1 diabetes that you wish more people knew/understood?
MTJ: Yes! A lot of people ask if you can “grow out of” type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately, people with Type 1 are insulin dependent until there is a cure. Another common question is “will it go away if you change his diet?” Again, no, type 1 diabetes is not caused by any lifestyle choices or nutrition. Lastly, managing type 1 diabetes is a 24/7 job. People with Type 1 have to constantly adjust their insulin intake based on diet, exercise, illness, stress, etc. Some days high or low blood sugars simply cannot be explained. I never really appreciated a functioning pancreas enough until this happened to our family.
AC: I’m sure that having a child with type 1 diabetes can be isolating at times. What are ways that both you and your son create a community of support?
MTJ: It definitely can be if you let it. We try to do our best at having a very open dialogue regarding his diagnosis. At a very early age, Drew was able to explain to his friends and adults that his pancreas does not make insulin so he wears an insulin pump and a CGM (continuous glucose monitor). We have tried to do our best at keeping him educated about his own health, and in return, he will be able to educate others.
AC: What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
MTJ: My son’s diagnosis has definitely changed my perspective on what is truly important. As a nurse, I had already been exposed to illness and serious situations working in the hospital, so I knew how fragile life was. However, when it is your own child, it is a different story. You are suddenly unable to leave the illness at work and clock out. Instead, you begin to focus on maintaining a healthy blood sugar throughout the night to avoid an emergency room visit rather than fixating on the latest ways to prep the perfect school lunch via Pinterest. In other words, as long as we have insulin available to us, everything is good and the rest is just cake.
AC: What would you tell someone (or the parent of someone) who has just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
MTJ: I would tell them to call me! Things will get better. Reach out to those around you and allow them to help you. Living with type 1 diabetes is a marathon, not a sprint. Do not allow this diagnosis to limit you or your loved one. We are so fortunate to live in a society with modern medicine which makes coping with type 1 diabetes completely manageable. Time and education as well as forming a good support network are key.
AC: How can people find out more about your organization?
The One to None shirts are printed on our Super Soft 7’s Ringer Tees, made in Bldg. 14 and printed locally. You can purchase your t-shirt here, and help support the research on type 1 diabetes and to provide financial assistance to those who need help. Proceeds of the sales of each t-shirt go to One to None.