Raising Hope for Type 1 Diabetes

The goal of this charitable drive is to raise a $10,000 donation to the Joslin Diabetes Research Center by 2016, signifying the 10-year anniversary of my Type One Diabetes diagnosis. With your help in sharing my story and message, you are helping me and nearly 3 million other Type One Diabetics push towards a cure. Your donation will be going in its entirety to Joslin Diabetes Center to help fund ongoing Type One Diabetes research. Joslin has been an invaluable resource and treatment center to me throughout my time with diabetes, and they continually make huge strides while undertaking groundbreaking diabetes research. No amount is too little; though even if you can't donate at this time, please do not hesitate to share my page on Facebook and social media and spread awareness about the ongoing fight against Type One Diabetes. "˜One' doesn't mean you are alone.
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MY STORY
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My name is Heather Harrington and throughout my life I have always asked, why? Why me? Why my family? Why do bad things happen to good people? The best answer I have to offer is that good people come from strong families, and strong families are the only support systems that can help us get through the toughest and most trying times. For me and many others who have gone through difficult situations, this has echoed true time and time again. Now, I am finally ready to share my story, perhaps as a coping method in moving forward, to help myself and others deal with life's often unforeseeable changes. Also in sharing my story hoping I can spark an effort to raise money with the goal of inspiring and in some way funding future change.

At age 22, I have spent nearly half of my life with Type One Diabetes (T1D). I along with nearly three million other Americans and millions more worldwide, battle every day with this disease, and will continue to do so because currently there is NO CURE. Many people who know me may know I have T1D, but don't really know the ins and outs of the depth of the disease and what I struggle on a day to day basis. Further, many people don't know the difference between type one and type two diabetes (T2D). T1D is unavoidable for those genetically destined to suffer from it. T2D is generally not an inherited disease, and can be caused by a variety of different factors, many of which (though not all) are reversible with proper diet and improved exercise habits. T1D, while genetically acquired, is often not explicably inherited; there is no evidence of any member of my immediate family having ever suffered from T1D. Part of my tough realization has been that there is no doctor who can give me an explanation as to why this disease will affect me for my entire life. This is and has been a huge problem for me in being able to fully accept this disease. I take daily shots of insulin in my arms, legs, stomach, and upper hip, providing my body with the mechanism it needs which is to process the carbohydrates that I ingest, effectively converting them to the sugar needed throughout my body. In non-diabetics, the pancreas is able to manage the food intake and convert carbohydrates using self-produced insulin; a diabetic pancreas is no longer able to accomplish that production. I have to check my blood sugar 5-10 times a day depending on my blood glucose levels and what I've eaten during a given day. A simple hour long workout to most requires two hours of preparation for a diabetic, making certain to eat before the activity and heightening blood glucose to a level high enough to sustain a work out for a given period of time. Even while sleeping a diabetic's blood sugars are constantly on the move and there are very serious health implications when blood glucose levels become too low. In the most serious level plummets, diabetics can end up in coma if not awakened from a low blood sugar. Aside from personal health and safety, changing glucose levels also affect the personal life and social activity of diabetics. High or low glucose levels can induce high anxiety and irritability, or altered mental status and slurred speech, depending on the body changes.

Over the last nearly ten years I have spent battling T1D, I have come to realize that every change in life, good or bad, serves as an opportunity to learn and improve, even in the smallest of ways. To that end, I also believe that everyone has a purpose in life, and I believe I have found mine. I have decided that my learning and improvement opportunity stemming from my disease is the chance to help others. I have been looking for this reason, and for an outlet to help for a long time, and have found my passion through art and topics related to health. I am sharing my story in hopes that I can make change for this disease and with your help, better the lives of afflicted diabetics. By sharing and liking this link, or donating to the fundraiser that has been established, you too can join me in my effort to raise the funds to push research even closer to a potential T1D cure. Read my story below and see why I wanted to start this movement, because it is deeper and more involved than just the disease itself.

In celebration of my 10th anniversary of having T1D , and being afforded through it the chance to help others, I hope I can reach a goal of raising $10,000 to be donated to helping research for a cure for Type One Diabetes. The ultimate goal is to have no child go through the symptoms, the scare, the questions and lifelong complications that I have. I hope that by sharing this story, I can gain awareness for the fact that T1D is a disease that shouldn't be taken lightly.

December 7th 2005 was a day that changed my and my family's life drastically, thanks to the most unforgiving of diseases, Cancer. My younger brother Nick, age 10, had been diagnosed with AAL Leukemia, a blood cancer that attacks your own immune system, making even the common cold a deadly incident if left untreated. Nicholas had to receive treatment immediately at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD), before the cancer cells spread even further than the 70% of his body which they had already covered.
While our family was trying to adapt to a new way of living dealing with Nicks treatments I was dealing with severe changes in my own body of which I was completely unaware. I noticed that I was getting tired during the day, sleeping in class, and was unable to out sprint my team mates during soccer practice, which was all very unlike me. I just thought it was from playing varsity and club soccer, and going to the gym to train in the mornings before school. I was drinking a whole gallon of milk each day after school and multiple water bottles daily. It never seemed to be enough. I thought it was my body just wanting to stay hydrated from all the physical activity. I also was going to the bathroom every 27 minutes I could barley "hold it" returning home from my high school, which was less than twenty minutes away. Again I just assumed it was from working out and my constant drinking. I found myself eating way more than I normally would. I would have 2 Arizona Fruit punch cans, 3-5 pieces of pizza, chips, fries and three school cookies every day at school for lunch. I figured it was just because the food was there, so I ate it and because of all of the physical activity. I also had the most painful leg cramps while I slept, to the point of screaming pain, once again just associated it with my involvement in soccer and training. I also found myself with blurred vision and assumed I needed glasses so I got them, and they seemed to help a little. I hated nagging my parents about things because I didn't want to get attention instead of Nick. By Christmas of that year I had lost 30 lbs, weighing only 92 lbs at 5'5 while only increasing my eating. Which in my head thought was awesome I can finally eat what I want and lose weight! I had no idea what was coming only a few short months later.

I became very frail and faint, one night even passing out and throwing up blood. That is when I finally had to say something to my parents. I went to the doctor the day after and peed in a cup. It was clear, and looked like just a cup of water. The doctor then told me without hesitation that I need to go to Dartmouth Hitchcock Children's Hospital.

All in all four months had passed since Nick's diagnosis, and on March 17th 2006 my own life was changed by disease. Still stricken with the emotional and physical stress of Nick's diagnosis, I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes and was ironically placed in CHaD room 538, where Nick first received treatment. My blood sugar was test revealed a blood sugar level of 1112! The normal level a non-diabetic person should expect is a range from 80-120. I was near a coma state and was extremely lucky to be alive with out complications. In Room 538, at 15 years old, I was taught to change my entire way of life. I learned about my new eating habits, my new habit of taking insulin shots throughout the day, and the necessity to monitor my high and low blood sugars. I became a human pin cushion over night and would be doing this until the day I died. I was more than confused, very angry, inconsolably sad and worse, didn't know what the future held for me. My phobia of needles became that much more real, knowing that needles would be my only way of survival by injections of insulin. Perhaps most heartbreaking, my parents learned how to cope with two out of their three children having been diagnosed with life changing diseases.

The next seven years were a battle of trying to adapt to family life with these new diseases. Our family, very close before our new challenges, became more dependent on each other for support, love and care as the things we stood to witness as human beings; sons, daughters, or siblings, should never have to see. Normal family weekends and dinner talks turned into trips to the hospital, talks about chemo schedules, and run downs of my spread sheet of daily blood sugars.

I had to change my life by eating certain things at certain times daily checking my blood sugar before and after meals in between meals and then taking insulin shots for the food I did eat. I also had to take a night shot so that my blood sugars wouldn't drop during the middle of the night. All things considered, I spent the first sixteen or so months perfectly on track. I was kicking Diabetes' butt. All the symptoms I had been feeling were gone and I felt normal again, besides the fact that I was "shooting up" every hour of the day and couldn't eat certain things.

Then something happened. I realized that this wasn't just a 90 day workout challenge it was my life. I would be living with this. Type One is supposed to be genetic, yet no one in my family had it. I was always athletic and healthy until this point in my life, so what gives? So I rebelled. I hated Diabetes I hated anyone who asked me how I was doing or if I took my medicine. I hated doctors who tried telling me what and how I should be eating and living. They didn't know what it was like at 15 to have this. To check my blood sugar before I drove?! Really? That's not living. They expected I would let this disease control me and how I lived. I pushed away my parents who tried to help me get on track again. I stopped testing my blood sugars, taking my insulin shots for meals at a time and eating what I wanted working out when ever and how ever I wanted. I figured out the loop holes after time even though all were very dangerous. If I just kept my blood sugar high enough there wouldn't be a scare of getting low and going into a coma. So that's what I did for a very long time. The fact that these awful habits wouldn't affect me later in life didn't phase me because I was still young. I knew in the long run if I kept up this behavior I would end up blind and amputated, with damaged nerves, failing kidneys, ailing heart and deformities in my children if or when I decided to have a child. I also knew that on average, even with controlled blood sugars my life expectance was cut back by 12 years, and with me keeping up this way of life, I would be cutting it by 15-18 years or more. I pushed my parents away so that I wasn't focused on it and I could simply be left alone.

My parents still had Nick to focus on and being the oldest I wanted to show them I didn't need help and they could focus on Nick and his health. In the mean time Nick had to be home schooled due to the amount of chemotherapy treatments, spinal taps and blood drawings, along with so many other complications during his treatment. Nick tried to be as normal as he could, and only wanted his family to treat him normally, but with all the chemo drugs in his system, he tired very quickly. The constant scare of fevers was on everyone's mind. He spent so many weeks in the hospital during the first three months, though it all became real when Nick first lost his hair. Through all the trials and tribulations however, Nicholas never stopped being strong and fearless. As his sister, I can honestly say he never cried thinking about himself as a cancer patient. He smiled as big as he could, though you could still see the pain and tiredness in his eyes, revealing that the chemo was indeed taking a toll on his tiny body. His strength kept our family strong, and my mother and father kept us positive, constantly assuring their children that Nick would get through these hard years of treatment simply because he was a Harrington. It might not have passed with scientific scholars, but it was the "scientific" truth that we needed. While Nick fought for his life though, I was still trying to figure out mine.

As the years went on and the disease became harder, I knew now that I had rendered myself alone in dealing with it. I lied about my health, blood sugars and taking my insulin to everyone who'd ask. I didn't want people knowing, I didn't want my family worried and I sure wasn't accepting it. While I kept a fake persona of strength about my disease in response to Nick's strength through his fight against cancer, I only kept hurting me. After four years of treatment and strong family support, 2010 brought Nicholas to a place we had only dreamed of; CANCER SURVIOR!! He could finally live like a normal teenager! He excelled academically and attended a private high school, excelling into college to study construction management at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA.! Tears of joy over whelmed our family as Nick would be able to have a normal college experience and only have monthly check ups with the doctors.

Meanwhile I was attending college at Mount Ida College only minutes down the road from Nick, participating in the Graphic Design program and playing D3 Women's Soccer. It was my senior year and the excitement of graduation and senior projects was in the air. Having Nick so close made things so much easier just knowing he was having a blast and I was nearby if he needed anything. Nick continued to thrive. With only five months of serious golf under his belt, he earned a spot on the WIT Golf Team! Life seemed to be back to the way it should be! With Nick's success I suddenly felt more compelled to get my life back on track. I became better with my sugars and taking my doses. Unfortunately tough, that drive only lasted in monthly spurts at a time just like in the beginning. Then:
From the blindside, fate struck our family yet again.

September 26, 2012 Nick was admitted to the hospital with ongoing fevers. Doctors at Mass General assured us that it was just Nick being in a college dorm setting with new kids and new viruses, and had just gotten sick. However these fevers continued and lasted for months at a time. On December 17, 2012 Nick was again diagnosed with AAL Leukemia. He had relapsed only a year after his one year cancer free anniversary. Our lives literally turned upside down all over again. This wasn't supposed to happen. Why is this happening to Nick again? Why our family? Having cancer once is never good let alone an 18 year old boy having it twice in his life.
Once again we found ourselves committing to only dwell for so long. There wasn't time for negativity and we pushed forward as a family knowing that everything would again be okay. Nick had beaten cancer once and in his words "I'm going to kick cancers ass again!" We decided that this had to be all of our attitudes. On
December 26th, once again the day after Christmas, Nick was headed up to CHaD for his second "˜first round' of chemo, this time with a new treatment protocol. It called for heavier, stronger, and a harder drug and chemo treatment. This time Nick lost his hair immediately and all of the negative side effects came on a lot quicker. The emotions fell into repeat mode. We knew exactly how things would go this time around because he had already experienced the what-ifs for so long previously. I was determined to finish my last semester of college while this happened. I was home most week days and weekends helping my brother and just making certain I was there for him as best as I could be. As I write this, Nick will slowly be approaching his year one of treatment with two years to follow.

We can only continue to feed Nick with positive energy and know that he will beat cancer again. All of the things I have experienced in the past nearly 10 years have made me realize that things truly can change overnight. I look back personally and ask myself what have I done with my diabetes? The answer is nothing. I have ignored it until now. I have seen all that my younger brother has gone though, and though he, like me hasn't chosen his disease, I alone have chosen to not follow the treatments that are proven to work. This is when it changes and this drive is part of my way of accepting it. For the past few months I am on track again and I will not stop. Having this outlet to raise money for a cure for T1D will keep me strong. Like the support my family provides, I feel that this charitable network can provide support for others afflicted with this disease. I it is the inspiration of knowing that I have done something with my disease that will keep me going. I want to say one day I HAD diabetes. By sharing my story and the things that have happened in my life, I hope to inspire recognition of the need for help and support for those battling these diseases. I want to start with one small mission at a time. My mission is that this initial $10,000 can help push research in the right direction and hopefully spark the cure for diabetes so that doctors can focus on direr and immediately life threatening diseases like cancer.

Thank you for reading my story, remeber to share, like or donate no amount is to little and you can help.

Heather Harrington

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  • Lisa Keane 
    • $25 
    • 43 mos
  • Kevin Jordan 
    • $50 
    • 56 mos
  • Sergi Filonow 
    • $100 
    • 58 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 60 mos
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    • $65 
    • 61 mos
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Organizer

Heather Harrington 
Organizer
Bedford, NH
Joslin Diabetes Center, Inc. 
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