When Tyler resident Angelica Gonzalez's son, Christian, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2011, she not only wanted to make sure her son had good health but also wanted to help other families get the support they need.
On Saturday, she'll run up and down Broadway Avenue and Old Jacksonville Highway for a one-woman campaign to shed light on the disease. Mrs. Gonzalez is attempting to run 100 miles, an ultra marathon, while also commemorating World Diabetes Day.
Blue balloons and signs that list Type 1 diabetes symptoms will mark her route along Broadway Avenue. Local businesses, including Super 1 Foods and her employer, First Bank and Trust East Texas, are sponsoring her run.
Last Wednesday, Mrs. Gonzalez helped tend to a booth to pass out literature and inform people of the warning signs of Type 1 diabetes during the grand opening of the new Super 1 Foods at Cumberland Village.
"If you know the signs, you can have a doctor do a simple finger stick, and one drop of blood can reveal the disease," she said. "It can be fatal, if it's not caught in time. That's what really got my attention. You've got to let parents know before it's too late."
Running isn't a new feat for Mrs. Gonzalez. She's always enjoyed it and has participated in marathons. She runs about four or five days each week and recently finished a 50-mile run in 13 hours in preparation for Saturday's event.
"I've never done 100 miles but I can do it," she said, noting the mental as well as physical preparation needed to complete the task.
Different from Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, which destroys cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Lifestyle can't prevent or delay a diagnosis. Before scientists discovered insulin in the 1920s, children with Type 1 diabetes would die young.
With early diagnosis and proper management, children survive the disease for decades, and life expectancy is improving. New studies have shown life expectancy to be 11 to 14 years less than the general population, compared to 27 years less in the 1970s.
The onset of symptoms is typically sudden, unlike Type 2, which happens more gradually.
Christian, who was normally active, would tire easily. He'd also go to the bathroom several times in the middle of the night and then drink a lot of water.
"I knew something wasn't right," Mrs. Gonzalez said.
After her son's diagnosis, she researched the disease, learning as much as she could about managing it.
She said there was no family history of Type 1 diabetes.
"We've always been a healthy family," she said. "We were always active. Why diabetes?"
Genetics may play a factor but not always. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "the appearance of Type 1 diabetes is suspected to follow exposure to an environmental trigger, such as an unidentified virus, stimulating an immune attack against the beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin in some genetically predisposed people."
A NEW FAMILY
The same day her son was diagnosed, Mrs. Gonzalez received a call from Margie Boyd, executive director of the support group Tyler Type One, welcoming her family.
By Thursday, she was at a meeting. Today, she's spreading the word about spotting early symptoms whenever she can.
"She is always at every event we have, ready to help," Mrs. Boyd said. "She doesn't just come to get. She gives as well."
For about five years, the group has helped families adjust to the challenges of Type 1 diabetes, which includes frequent monitoring of blood sugar levels, multiple insulin injections or use of insulin pumps and developing a daily meal plan to maintain blood sugar.
In the first two years, they had the support of Dr. Luis Casas, a pediatric endocrinologist, who has since left East Texas.
"Every new diagnosis flowed through our system the first few years and then he left," Mrs. Boyd said. "We have lost contact with a lot of the new diagnoses. They're all sent to Dallas now."
This means fewer families have access to support. The group tries to fill that gap by partnering with local school nurses. They've also worked to get the message to local parents whose children are seen at Dallas Children's Medical Center.
"Sometimes they find us and sometimes they don't," Mrs. Boyd said.
Nonetheless, the tight-knit group relies on their small community to alleviate the stresses of coping with Type 1 diabetes.
"Your life changes completely and it affects the whole family," Mrs. Gonzalez said. "If it wasn't for (Tyler Type One), I don't know where we'd be. The support has made it easier."
The mother of three said the collective experience among children in the group, which meets every third Thursday of the month, helps Christian, 13, not feel awkward about his illness.
"We became family," she said.
Tyler Type One hosts fundraisers for awareness campaigns, and as needed, a one-on-one class to teach the community about the basics of Type 1 diabetes.
"I can't prevent any child from getting Type 1 diabetes, but if I could prevent them from getting hospitalized or losing their lives, that's what I want," Mrs. Gonzalez said. "If I could save one life, I would feel accomplished."
IF YOU GO
• To cheer Angelica Gonzalez or for information on how to donate, contact Tyler Type One Diabetes Foundation at TylerTypeOne.org.
• Mrs. Gonzalez will be starting and ending her run at First Bank and Trust East Texas next to Fresh on Old Jacksonville Highway.
Know the signs:
If symptoms are present, see a physician and request a blood test
• Constant thirst
• Frequent urination
• Sudden weight loss
Type 1 vs. Type 2
• Type 1 diabetes usually starts in childhood and can be fatal if undiagnosed. Type 2 diabetes is usually discovered in adulthood and delayed diagnosis could lead to severe complications
• Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, as the body mistakenly destroys all insulin producing cells needed to live. Therefore, it cannot be prevented. Type 2 diabetes can be mostly prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle.
• The risk of low blood sugar episode is less common in someone with Type 2 diabetes. However, it is common in people with Type 1 diabetes. Simple sugars are eaten at times to treat lows that are severe.
• The majority of diabetes cases, or 90 to 95 percent, are Type 2.
Source: Tyler Type One, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention