When Nicole Liebelt and her husband left the hospital in March 2016, after their three-year-old Charley had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they felt like they had a newborn again.
“We really spent those first days at the hospital stabilizing Charley but also learning about how we were going to care for her,” the San Ramon resident said. “Because it was learning something new all over again.”
Friends and family wanted to know how they could best support Charley and her parents. They weren't interested in a GoFundMe, Nicole said, so a good friend set up a JDRF One Walk team for Charley, a team to walk together in the annual JDRF One Walk in support of Charley and raising funds for type 1 diabetes (T1D) research.
Formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the simpler-named JDRF is an international nonprofit that funds research on T1D, from searching for a cure for the disease to advancing new technologies and treatments to aid people who have been diagnosed.
The San Francisco-based organization's annual San Ramon JDRF One Walk will take place at Bishop Ranch on Sunday, Oct. 15, with the goal of raising over $528,000.
"Everyone who comes out to walk or support the event will bring us one step closer to turning Type One into Type None," said Lisa Fischer-Colbrie, chair of the JDRF Greater Bay Area One Walk. "This is a great activity for families and friends to get together in support of type 1 diabetes research, whether you know someone affected by T1D or just want to make a difference."
"We are grateful for the incredible support of the people of the East Bay who are doing their part to make life better for more than 1.25 million people in the United States who have this serious disease," she added.
T1D is an autoimmune disease -- or a disease in which body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells. In the case of T1D, the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, resulting in a person's pancreas no longer being able to produce insulin, a hormone necessary for people to get energy from food.
Not to be confused with type 2 diabetes, the appearance of T1D, while not completely understood, isn't related in any way to diet or lifestyle. It's not preventable and right now, there is no cure.
A few days after Charley was diagnosed, JDRF reached out to Liebelt, providing her with books and a Rufus Bear, a stuffed bear which had patches on the same body parts where Charley was getting insulin shots. “That bear and the books that they give you, just gives you an opportunity to talk with your child, about what’s happening to them, why it’s happening, how the insulin is helping them,” Liebelt said.
More than anything, Liebelt wants her beautiful, "sassy" daughter to live a normal life. And she sees JDRF as a driving force behind allowing this to happen, particular in the form of technological advancements. Charley wears an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor, so Liebelt can check her daughter's glucose levels on her phone at all times – devices that allow Charley to safely participate in normal, five-year-old activities.
This will be their second walk, under the team name “Charley’s Champs.”
JDRF also introduced them to other parents in the San Ramon Valley dealing with the same disease. Like Shonda Layous, who lives with her family in Danville.
Layous has a seven-year-old, Kendall, with T1D. Two days after Kendall’s second birthday, Layous and her husband decided to bring their daughter to the clinic – Kendall had had an “off weekend,” with what seemed like the flu at times, in addition to extreme thirst and excessive peeing, other symptoms of T1D.
When they got there, it didn't take long for staff to realize that something was wrong, and the family was directed to immediately go to Children's Hospital in Oakland. Like many young children with T1D, Layous said, Kendall was very sick by the time of diagnosis, since symptoms often aren’t severe and it can be difficult to know what’s going on. She was released after four days in the ICU, during which time Layous and her husband were trained to care for her.
Now Kendall is seven years old, a bubbly redhead attending John Baldwin Elementary in Danville. She’s quite active, playing on a competitive soccer team, and participating in swimming and gymnastics, but it's an all-consuming effort – making sure she stays alive. A nurse is now at her school at all times to help monitor Kendall’s levels, and Layous and her husband check on her a few times every night. If she goes to a friend's for a play date, their parents always need to be trained on how to monitor her blood sugar.
“It’s really hard seeing what Kendall goes through,” Layous said, her voice breaking. “And we have moments where we’re it feels like, ‘why her?’”
But Kendall, she said, stays strong. And, Layous said, they will take part in the JDRF One Walk until there’s a cure. This fall will be “Team Kendoo’s” sixth event.
“Everybody has challenges and I think it takes strength to turn those challenges into something positive,” Layous said. “Which is why for us getting so involved with JDRF and doing the walk, that is a source of inspiration for us. It gives Kendall hope, it gives us hope. It’s incredible for her to see how many people in our family and friends and the Tri-Valley community rally for her, support her, donate to the cause, show up on walk day.”
JDRF One Walks take place across the country, with three Bay Area events taking place in October. As of Oct. 1, San Ramon’s walk had raised a little over $300,200, 57% of their $528,500 goal.
Pre-registration is recommended, and on-site check-in begins at 9:30 a.m., with the three-mile walk commencing at 11 a.m.