WBMS student collects over $5200 for diabetes research
VINTON–November is designated as National Diabetes Awareness Month to educate the public about the symptoms of diabetes and to gain support for research aimed at preventing, treating, and curing the disease.
The Greater Blue Ridge JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) spearheads the event on a local level. Their goal is to “Find a cure. Fast.”
The local organization could have no better spokesperson for their cause than Matthew Butler, a seventh grader at William Byrd Middle School.
Since he was diagnosed at age 6, Butler has helped raise over $20,000 for Type 1 Diabetes research, mainly through the annual “Walk for a Cure” event with his team, “Matthew’s Marchers,” captained by his grandmother. Their goal for 2012 was to raise $5,100, a goal which they have surpassed, collecting $5,210 to date.
Butler has served as a Youth Ambassador for the Greater Blue Ridge JDRF district, speaking with Congressman Bob Goodlatte and Virginia State Senator Ralph Smith about the need for increased funding for diabetes research.
Butler suddenly developed the symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) when he was beginning first grade. (Signs of diabetes include extreme thirst, lethargy, weight loss but with increased appetite, and frequent urination. )
He missed part of the first week of school in the hospital. He was diagnosed quickly, but it took several days to get his blood sugar regulated and his family trained in managing his care, including giving him insulin shots. His parents and also his grandparents, who provided afterschool care, had to prove that they were capable of administering the shots.
“I had to have shots 6 or more times a day, and that was horrible at first,” said Matthew, who had an aversion to needles. “It was really hard to adjust to having diabetes. But as I did, I found that I could still do the things I used to do. I just had to learn to live with diabetes and make the adjustments that it required.”
Now Matthew gets his insulin via a pump, which has eliminated several blood checks during the day at school and no longer necessitates his keeping notes on what he eats.
“At school, I had to go have my sugar checked at least 3 times a day, and sometimes more,” said Butler. “This meant that I sometimes missed time out of class and missed part of my lessons. When I take my SOL tests, sometimes my sugar has been high or low and I have to go see the nurse during the tests.”
Butler is the only one in his family with Type 1 Diabetes, although his father and members of his extended family suffer from Type 2. Doctors and scientists are unsure what causes T1D, although they do recognize it as an autoimmune disease possibly triggered by a virus.
Information provided by the JDRF states that “Type 1 is not caused by eating too much sugar. No one knows what causes Type 1 to happen, or how to prevent it from happening.”
In Type 1, the body destroys its own cells that make insulin, the hormone that everyone must have to survive and needs to get energy from the food they eat. Since individuals with T1D do not make their own insulin, they must get it through shots or an insulin pump several times a day. To stay healthy they must perform a balancing act between their food, exercise, and insulin 24/7.
Conversely in Type 2 Diabetes, the body still makes insulin, but isn’t able to use it normally. Risk factors for Type 2 are obesity, poor dietary habits, and lack of exercise.
Losing weight or increasing exercise often alleviates the need for treatment in Type 2 Diabetes, but for Type 1, there is no cure as of yet; there is only insulin.
Butler’s favorite subjects are math and science, which is a good thing since T1D involves doing lots of calculations, keeping track of food intake, and determining the amount of insulin that will turn each meal or snack into energy for the body to use.
Butler begins his day by testing his blood sugar, eating breakfast, and then giving himself a “bolus” (dose) of insulin to balance with the foods that he ate. He doesn’t generally check his glucose levels again until right before lunch time in the school nurse’s office, unless he gets more exercise than usual in gym class.
He returns to her office after lunch for another dose, and more after his afterschool snack, and then checks his blood sugar again before dinner and bedtime, calculating doses to maintain the correct levels in his blood each time. That amounts to four blood checks on a normal day.
Illnesses or variations in routine can cause changes in blood sugar that must be addressed. Once Matthew broke his arm and had to be hospitalized when his blood sugar skyrocketed. He sees the doctor every few months to see if adjustments need to be made in his dosage.
Butler is an active adolescent who is able to participate in sports, currently lacrosse and soccer. He is also interested in the amateur ham radio clubs at WBMS and WBHS.
Although it was hard not to overcompensate and be ultra-cautious when he was younger, Butler’s parents strive to allow him to be more independent with his diabetes care as he matures.
“We hope people understand that he is not different than other kids,” said Matthew’s father, Brian Butler. “We don’t tiptoe around him. Matthew is a great kid. He plays two sports, takes advanced classes, and stays on the honor roll. He would make any parent proud.”
“We try to let him be in charge,” said his father, an Earth Science teacher at WBHS. “He knows it’s not a game and he must take care of himself.”
The family makes accommodations for the disease, but as Matthew has gotten older they have learned to minimize his condition as much as possible. When they leave the house, they carry snacks, a test kit, and supplies with them, but not the overabundance that they originally carried with them on even the smallest excursions.
“Matthew has always been very open about T1D,” said his father. “It’s no big deal to him; he is not embarrassed and he doesn’t shy away from it.”
While he is not happy to have T1D, he has chosen to look on the bright side. Having T1D has afforded him experiences and opportunities that he would not have had otherwise. He has made a host of friends, many through JDRF activities, such as Camp Too Sweet. Not only has he met lawmakers, but other celebrities such as Coach Frank Beamer and an Olympian with diabetes.
When Butler was first diagnosed, Landon Johnson, quarterback for WBHS at the time, who had Type 1 diabetes, talked with Matthew about what to expect. Matthew now tries to be the same kind of mentor to others diagnosed with T1D.
The Butlers are very grateful to all of the individuals and organizations who have supported Matthew and made contributions to diabetes research– Vinton businesses, colleagues,their church (Campbell Presbyterian), and the Kroger Bonsack which holds a “Sneaker Sale” for diabetes each year.
Activities planned for November include wearing blue on November 1 (T1D Day) and on November 14, World Diabetes Day. Salon Veluxe in Salem is sponsoring a “Blue Hair Streak Fundraiser.” Patrons pay $10 per streak with the proceeds going to JDRF.
Details are available online at www.jdrfgreaterblueridge.org .