No slowing down

JDRF youth ambassador Walker stays active, despite disease
by Jeff Pederson of The Review staff

Austin Walker of Plymouth is a typical 11-year-old boy who enjoys taking part in sports, outdoor activities and skateboarding.

Like many kids his age, he is fueled by a constant motor than runs on high morning, noon and night.

While Walker may appear to be your average carefree kid who is always on the go, that is not exactly the truth.

For the past 15 months, the soon-to-be sixth-grade student at Riverview Middle School has been living with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic disease which robs the pancreas of the ability to produce insulin to convert food into energy to feed the body.

Walker was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, on May 21, 2012, after experiencing many of the symptoms associated with unregulated insulin-dependent diabetes.

“I started to go to the bathroom all the time and I was really thirsty, so I started drinking all the time,” Walker said. “I was getting tired easily and became more emotional than normal”

While many people that are unfamiliar with the signs of juvenile diabetes go untreated for an extended period of time, Walker was luckily not one of time.

Since his father Tony has been living with Type 1 diabetes for the past 10 years, Walker was quite familiar with the symptoms and subsequent treatment of the disease.

“When things started to get back, we checked by blood sugar and it was 412, which is no good at all,” Austin said. “We knew right away that it was diabetes. The next day we went down to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee to get the initial treatment and to take a class on how to deal with it.”

Tony is thankful that Austin received treatment shortly after the onset of the tell-tale symptoms.

“We had a lot of experience with diabetes and what diabetics go through on a daily basis, so that helped us a lot,” Tony said. “It was probably not as large of a transition for Austin as it is normally for people that have little to no knowledge of the disease.”

Although Austin was familiar with the way his father approached treatment of the disease, it began evident from the start that adults and adolescents don’t approach attempting to control the disease exactly the same way.

“There is a different between the way with deal with the disease if you are an adult as opposed to a child,” Tony said. “There are a few minor differences, but once we got Austin into a routine, things came around pretty quickly.”

One thing that changed drastically for Austin was his daily routine.

“My routine did change quite a bit,” Austin said. “Now I have to take my blood sugar four to five times a day to make sure my levels are good.

“When I eat I have to count carbs and take the correct dose of insulin to go along with the food I eat,” he said. “If my blood sugar goes low, I need to take some candy, like Skittles, or something with some fast acting carbs to raise up by blood sugar level.”

Tony says eating meals at the same time each day helps to keep Austin’s blood sugar numbers in line.

“We try to eat meals, especially supper, at the same time each day at around 5:30-6,” Tony said. “We follow a pretty structured routine, but still sometimes Austin gets low blood sugar, which he normally treats with Skittles.

“A lot of people think that diabetics can’t eat certain foods or have sugar, but that’s really not true,” he said. “Austin, just like any other diabetic, can eat anything we wants as long as he uses his sliding scale to figure out the number of carbs and the appropriate dose of insulin.”

Tony says the entire Walker family attempts to avoid eating in restaurants as much as possible, due to the unpredictable carb levels in most foods.

“We try to prepare most of our meals at home and avoid restaurants when we can to try and control the carb counts as much as possible,” Tony said. “In restaurants, you really don’t know what they are putting into the food and that can cause problems for diabetics. When we make something at home, we feel like we have more control.

“We have become really good at really food labels, that’s for sure,” he said.

Austin admits that his highly active lifestyle can make it difficult to control his diabetes at times.

“I’m always out doing something and being so active lowers blood sugar levels, which sometimes isn’t a good thing,” Austin said. “I have several low blood sugar readings in the 30s or 40s nearly every week. That is why I have to keep Skittles nearby.”

Austin, who also enjoys working on engines, hunting, fishing, trapshooting, baseball and biking, has had no problem keeping his overall blood sugar level (A1C) below the preferred line.

“My A1C has always been pretty low,” Austin said. “The last reading was 6.1, which is way below the recommended 7.0 level. The doctor actually gets concerned that my level might be too low, so that is something I always need to pay attention to.”

Austin’s mother Nicole is thankful to have strong support from her son’s school and group of friends.

“We are very lucky to be in Plymouth at have Austin going to Riverview School, where they really look out for him,” Nicole said. “They have an aide at the school that works with

Austin and the other diabetic kids very well.

“Austin’s friends have also been great to him,” she said. “They know that he is in danger of getting dehydrated when he is out and about, so he has to drink more water than most kids. They tell him to check his blood sugar when he isn’t acting right. Austin is very open about his diabetes and I think he knows how important it is for everyone around him to know that he has the disease.”

Walker is currently the youth ambassador for the 13th annual edition of the Sheboygan County JDRF Walk/ Run to Cure Diabetes at Ebben Field in Kohler on Saturday, Sept. 21.

“We did the walk for the first time last year and became active in JDRF,” Nicole said. “Shortly after last year’s walk, the director of the event, Sandy Lange, contacted us to see if Austin would be increased in being the youth ambassador this year.”

Austin has enjoyed his role as youth ambassador and is looking forward to the event on Sept. 21.

“I’ve been on the radio doing a promotional ad for the walk and I gave a speech at the kickoff luncheon,” Austin said. “I will give a speech on the day of the walk and cut the ribbon at the start. It should be a fun experience.

“I enjoy being involved in JDRF and I have applied to go to Washington, D.C. as a youth advocate,” he said. “I want to do as much as I can to help find a cure.”

The JDRF Walk/Run to Cure Diabetes event again includes 5K, 3.1-mile run, which returns after making a successful debut last year.

Awards will be presented for overall male and female run winners, as well as first, second and thirdplace finishers in 13 male and female age divisions.

Registration for the run will run from 7:30-8:30 a.m. with the run scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Registration for the walk runs from 8-9 a.m., with the walk set to begin at 9 a.m. The run and walk will take place rain or shine.

Runners and walkers can register online at walk.

Walkers, runners are encouraged to form teams and collect donations to support JDRF.

The early bird 5K run registration fee is $25 before Sept. 6.

The fee increases to $35 before Sept. 21 and $40 on the day of the race. All fees go to support the JDRF fundraising campaign for type 1 diabetes research.

Last year’s Sheboygan County Walk to Cure Diabetes, which also includes participants from Manitowoc and Fond du Lac counties, drew over 500 walkers and 54 teams, while raising $127,000.

The theme for this year’s Walk to Cure Diabetes, “Knock T1D Out of the Park,” encourages participants to embrace a baseball theme.

Thanks to the generosity of Johnsonville Sausage, this year’s event will include lunch.

The Corporate Chair for this year’s event is Terry Stevenson, who is the advertising and promotions manager for Seehafer Broadcasting Corp.

Corporate sponsors include: Sargento (gold), Acuity (silver), Johnsonville Sausage (silver), Sigma-Aldrich (bronze), Plenco (bronze), Vollrath (bronze), Bemis Manufacturing (checkpoint), Kohler Co. (checkpoint), Piggly Wiggly (checkpoint), Lakeside Pepsi (checkpoint) and Rockline Industries (checkpoint).

Media sponsors are WOMT 1240 am, Lake 98.1 and WQTC Q102, which will be broadcasting live from 7-9 a.m.

An Outreach Picnic is also on tap for Sunday, Aug. 18 at the Plymouth Aquatic Center beginning at noon.

JDRF is the leading charitable funder and advocate of type 1 diabetes. Since it was founded in 1970 by the parents of children with type 1 diabetes, JDRF has raised $1.6 billion for type 1 diabetes research.

The mission of JDRF is to find a cure for type 1 diabetes and its complications through research. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease that strikes children and adults suddenly, and can be fatal.

Although it helps type 1 diabetics maintain steady blood-sugar levels and live relatively normal lives, insulin is not a cure and it does not prevent potential complications, which may include kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, stroke and amputation.

Since its inception, JDRF has provided more than $1.5 billion in direct funding to diabetes research, including $107 million last year.

Although he has a chronic disease with very serious consequences, Austin is highly committed to staying active and controlling his diabetes to the best of his ability.

“I haven’t really changed by lifestyle too much,” Austins aid. “I’m still active like I was before. I grew up around diabetes with my dad and I basically follow the same kind of routine as he does.

“Even though I have diabetes, I don’t let it get me down,” he said.

For more information on the Walk to Cure Diabetes, the mentoring program or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, contact Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter Outreach Manager Sandy Lange at 920-803- 8820 or e-mail

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