By Karen Blackledge
The Danville News
DANVILLE — Amelia Benjamin and Dejah Jones are active first-graders.
But 7-year-old Amelia has to take her insulin pump off when she’s in water or doing something active like hip-hop or gymnastics.
Classmate Dejah, also 7, gets insulin shots three times a day and more if needed. She said it feels weird testing her blood sugar.
They will be among the approximately 550 kindergarten through second-graders from the Danville Primary School taking part in the first Kids’ Walk for Diabetes to raise awareness and money toward a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. Some of the money collected will go toward the school’s reading program.
Kids participated in a kick-off April 10 with Kristine Evina, development coordinator of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Central Pennsylvania, speaking about the event May 9 on the Danville High School track. The rain date is May 10.
Those donating will receive paper sneakers. People can contribute to the walk, toward the reading program or both by calling Michelle Benjamin of Danville at (570) 764-6103.
Also being sold at the school are bracelets, necklaces and earrings in diabetes awareness colors of blue and gray made by Betsy Persing of the Danville area.
Classes will take turns walking around the track, said Evina whose 11-year-old daughter Emily was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 17 months.
The closest community walks are in Williamsport, Hershey and Lancaster. A community walk is planned June 1 at PNC Stadium in Moosic.
Dejah Jones said her parents Breyn and Jason Jones give her shots at breakfast and at dinner time. The school nurse gives her a shot at lunchtime. She said she doesn’t mind the needles since they are “real skinny.”
She enjoys swimming and playing Little League baseball and Upward Basketball. Dejah is also allergic to wheat.
Amelia Benjamin’s mother Michelle Benjamin suggested the walk.
The Benjamin’s son Ethan, 13 and a seventh-grader, also has Type 1 Diabetes. The Benjamins have another son Gabriel, 9.
School Principal John Bickhart said they plan to call the event a race or run for research and reading. “With the kids close to the track, we wanted them to go the extra step to help support the community. There are kids with diabetes in the school which makes it closer to home and connected to us,” he said.
The school has applied for a Merck Cherokee grant tied to the walk with the grant paying for books.
“We have a fun opportunity to walk around a big track and help a cause. We can help out others and get some exercise by walking,” Bickhart told students at the kick-off.
Evina said kids can help their classmates who get shots or use an insulin pump. Showing Amelia’s pump, she told the students Amelia sleeps with the pump.
The Benjamins have participated in a diabetes community walk in Hershey since Amelia was diagnosed at age 2. Ethan was diagnosed when he was 11.
“She was still in diapers, had a lot of accidents and was very cranky. The terrible twos were so much worse. She had a rash that wouldn’t clear up. We tried every diaper on the planet,” Michelle said. Doctors found her blood sugar to be high and her ketones also high. Amelia was admitted to Geisinger Medical Center for three days. “We had to be trained on injecting insulin, counting carbs — we didn’t know anything about diabetes before,” she said.
Amelia’s insulin pump gives her small doses of insulin throughout the day. “She does very well and is very active. She manages a lot on her own and works the pump. She’s learning to count carbs,” Michelle said. Amelia checks her blood sugar by pricking her finger. If her blood sugar is low, she eats a fruit snack.
“At gymnastics , I disconnect it or when I take a bath or at dance class,” said Amelia who cheers for St. Joseph and plays Upward Basketball.
“The first year we did the walk in Hershey, I cried all the way. It was so good to see all the families dong so well with healthy, active children. Everybody had a great time. They supported us and we have supported them every year,” Michelle said.
When Ethan starting losing weight quickly, she became concerned. She asked him to measure his blood sugar on his sister’s glucose meter. His reading was high. He did the test again with a high reading. “We called our diabetes educator who said to test his ketones through urine and we did,” she said. Then they took him to Geisinger’s emergency department.
Ethan’s insulin pump is wireless and waterproof. His glucose meter communicates with his pump to calculate how much insulin he needs.
The seventh-grader is active in Boy Scouts and looks forward to camp every year. He’s in track and field at school.
Ethan knows several other diabetic middle school students.
“He knew how to take care of his sister. We and he were trained in the use of his pump,” his mother said.
Chris Benjamin said it was a shock finding out Amelia had diabetes and another shock when Ethan was diagnosed.
Now, “Taking care of them has become just part of our life,” he said.
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