On October 21, 2011 life changed for my family. On this day my son, Ryan, was diagnosed with Type One diabetes (T1D), an autoimmune disease that affects millions of children and adults.
Thankfully my wife’s, Kelly’s, maternal instincts were on high alert. In the days leading up to Ryan’s diagnosis she knew something was wrong and insisted that Ryan see his pediatrician, Dr. Shulman. I had been protesting and I had an explanation for all of her concerns. “Of course he is thirsty all the time,” I told her, “it is hot outside (it was unseasonably hot, even for Los Angeles) and between baseball and football practice he is outdoors working hard.” “Of course he is urinating frequently,” I continued, “he is drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated.” And, “of course he is complaining of feeling fatigued,” I said refusing to concede, “between baseball and football he is practicing two to three hours each day after school.”
Kelly would have none of it. Fortunately, my wife learned a long time ago that listening to me is not always the smartest move. So, off we went to see Dr. Shulman. It seemed as though Dr. Shulman diagnosed Ryan in less than five minutes. This made me protest even more. “Don’t you need to run a series of tests? Don’t you need to send tests to a lab for analysis? Don’t we need a second opinion?” I was clueless and failed to recognize that Dr. Shulman was operating in familiar territory.
I remember Dr. Shulman explaining that Ryan needed to be seen by Children’s Hospital. It was a Friday afternoon and I responded, “Absolutely. We are in town next week if you think they can see him that soon.” That is when Dr. Shulman shot me his best you’re an idiot look but still managed to gently say, “You don’t understand, you’re going right now.” BAM! That was like a punch to the gut that knocked the wind out of me.
On the way to the hospital I was worried and scared, but I have to admit I remained optimistic. I was convinced the emergency room physicians would run further tests and discover Ryan was fine. That Dr. Shulman was just being cautious.
When Ryan was admitted into emergency he was asked to change into a hospital gown. Kelly and I were in the room and our jaws must have dropped to the floor as Ryan changed into that gown. Ryan looked like he had dropped 15-20 pounds overnight. It was in that moment that I knew all my protests had been in vain because this was something I couldn’t explain away. An athletic, teenage boy who eats like a horse should be building muscle and gaining weight, not losing it. Something I didn’t understand was attacking Ryan’s body and I didn’t know what to do.
I made two promises that day in the emergency room. I promised I would do whatever I could to help Ryan get better. And, I promised myself I would never allow myself to feel that helpless again.
I am a bit ashamed telling this story because on some level I feel I failed as a father. To this day I can’t explain why I remained obstinate in the days leading up to Ryan’s diagnosis. It was as if I adopted some childish notion that if I failed to acknowledge something, it somehow wasn’t so. Thankfully, I married a strong woman.
From a young age we are encouraged to discover and pursue our passions. On October 21, 2011 I discovered that sometimes, when we least expect it, our passion and purpose finds us. On that day, T1D advocacy and the efforts to find a cure became part of my life’s work. No doubt, as we move forward, positive, yet to be determined turns, will be discovered that will reveal and strengthen character.