Promise of a cure for
diabetes: Mom makes deal with teen daughter
by Cassandra Spratling, Detroit Free Press, September
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To be just like other kids.
That's what Rachel Dudley wanted to be at age 13.
She wanted to eat what she wanted, where she wanted, when she
wanted, just like her friends.
She was tired of the rigid regimen required for children like
her who have juvenile diabetes: specific meals at specific
times in specific amounts.
And she didn't want to take the insulin shots that controlled
her blood sugar levels and kept her healthy.
So she stopped.
When she was supposed to be in the bathroom injecting insulin
into her body, she was ejecting the medicine into the toilet.
"It's simply easier not to do what you're supposed to do,"
Her body revolted. She ended up in the intensive care unit of
Children's Hospital of Michigan with ketoacidosis, severely
out-of-control diabetes that, if not treated promptly, could
have killed her or left her in a coma.
Rachel's mom, Grenae Dudley, pleaded with her daughter to do
better. At Rachel's hospital bedside, they made a pact.
Her mom said, "I will do everything in my power to find a cure
if you will do everything in your power to stay healthy."
Within a month after that incident in 1998, Grenae Dudley had
formed a team of friends and family members to participate in
the annual Walk to Cure Diabetes, sponsored by the Juvenile
Diabetes Research Foundation.
The family's goal: to raise a dollar for every insulin shot
Rachel has taken.
Every year since that 1998 pledge, family members have done
that or more.
Their goal this year: $13,395.
On Sunday, they'll join thousands of other walkers at sites in
Warren and Ann Arbor who are walking to raise money for a cure
for juvenile diabetes.
The walks are among several fund-raisers being held around the
country, including three others in Michigan. There will be
walks on Saturday in Grand Rapids and Jackson and on Sept. 28
at the Holland State Park. (Go to www.jdrf.org for details).
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, heart attacks,
strokes, kidney failure and limb amputations. An estimated 17
million Americans have diabetes.
There are two types.
Type I results when, for reasons not known, the body produces
little or no insulin. It's also called juvenile diabetes
because it usually begins in childhood, although adults can
get it. The foundation estimates that a million Americans have
Type I diabetes.
Type II used to be called adult-onset diabetes, but an
increasing number of children are getting it because of rising
obesity rates and inactive lifestyles among children.
It comes from the body's inability to effectively use insulin.
Insulin, a hormone, is needed for the body to function
properly -- particularly to turn glucose, a sugar, into
Type II diabetes can usually be controlled with diet and
exercise, as well as other medications.
Type I diabetes, which is what Rachel has, can't be prevented
People who have Type I diabetes, which is not triggered by
weight or lifestyle, must learn to live with it. And living
well requires daily insulin shots, a healthful diet --
particularly one low in sugar -- regular exercise and daily
finger pricks to test the sugar level in the blood.
For Rachel and many others, it also requires regular visits to
Rachel takes insulin shots three times a day and goes to the
hospital every three months for physical checkups to be sure
everything is going well.
Rachel, who'll be 17 on Sept. 30, was 4 when she was
'Am I going to die?'
Her mom will never forget that day.
She came home from a business trip and noticed that her baby
girl looked as if she'd lost weight. Her eyes appeared to be
sunken in and she had an unquenchable thirst. Sudden weight
loss, unusual thirst, blurred vision, frequent urination and
weakness or fatigue are warning signs of diabetes.
Grenae Dudley took Rachel to her pediatrician, who checked her
blood sugar level.
The doctor told Grenae Dudley to take her child to Children's
Hospital right away.
On the way, 4-year-old Rachel asked her mother, "Am I going to
"Not if I can help it," her mother replied.
Medical personnel were waiting when Rachel and her mom arrived
and immediately hooked her up to "all kinds of tubes and
syringes," recalls Grenae Dudley, executive director of the
Youth Connection and directorof Mayor's Time, created by Mayor
Kwame Kilpatrick. Both programs aim to develop after-school
activities for children.
While Rachel recovered physically, her mother recovered
emotionally from the news that her precious baby girl was
"I knew what diabetes was, but it never occurred to me that my
child could have it. No one in my family or my ex-husband's
family had it. My child is insulin-dependent for life until a
cure is found."
Before Rachel could leave the hospital, all of her primary
caregivershad to learn how to care for her and how to give her
At first, they practiced on oranges. Initially, the idea of
injecting Rachel was frightening.
"My mother said, 'I can't give my baby shots,' " Grenae Dudley
recalls her mother saying. "It hit me that if we don't, she
At about 11, Rachel asked if she could begin giving her own
shots: a quest for independence common among preteens. And, in
fact, medical authorities recommend self-care for children who
"I remember being eager to do it myself because I wanted to be
out of my mom's hair," says Rachel, a senior at
Southfield-Lathrup High. "It was a step toward independence
and a little more freedom."
Then the teen years hit and Rachel longed to be normal.
"It was time-consuming," she says, citing her diet as an
example. She has to have a certain amount of carbohydrates,
fats and proteins and had to learn which foods could be
exchanged for others to satisfy the requirements.
"I'd be in the school cafeteria figuring exchanges and my
friends would have eaten and were already on the playground,"
That's when she decided to cure herself by pretending she was
OK, dumping her shots and neglecting her diet.
The severe, life-threatening reaction served as a reality
check. Her kidneys almost shut down. She could have died. She
realized she could live with the diet and the insulin shots.
That's when she and her mom made their pact.
Living up to her side of the agreement requires a little extra
advance planning, but otherwise she's like a normal teenager.
If she's going to be out, she either packs her food or plans
ahead what she'll eat and when. "With careful planning,
there's really not much I can't eat," she says. "But I have to
stay away from sweets --cookies, cakes, and candy -- because
it drives my blood sugar crazy."
Like her mother, who is an advocate for the well-being of
children, Rachel has become a junior champion in the search
for a cure for diabetes.
In May, she was honored for her efforts by the Metro Detroit
and Southeast Michigan Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes
Research Foundation. It was the first time a child received
the Jane Cobb Promise Award for Community Activism, given
annually at its charity ball, says Karen Breen, executive
director of the foundation's local chapter.
In the summer of 2001, Rachel was one of 200 children from
across the nation who went to Washington, D.C., to plead for
federal dollars for researching a cure.
Only five of the 200 children addressed Congress. She was one
And she has joined her mother -- a board member of the
foundation -- in helping to raise money for a cure.
For the past several days, she's been going around
Southfield-Lathrup High School with an empty Quaker Oats box
"The students have been very generous," she says. "It seems
they all know somebody with diabetes."
For the past several years, the Dudley family has been one of
the top five fund-raising teams participating in metro
Detroit's Walk to Cure Diabetes, Breen says.
Grenae Dudley shares her strategy: It starts with a heavy
letter-writing campaign to friends and family members. She
talks it up wherever she goes. Among her generous contributors
are members of her church, Hope United Methodist in
Southfield, and her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. Every
year, the Dudley family, which includes a 19-year-old
sonBrandon, comes up with something unique. This year, Grenae
Dudley's manicurist, Andrea Joi Wilkins, suggested a cookbook.
The result: a 23-page cookbook called "Cooking with Joi for
Rachel." Though most recipes came from Wilkins, some came from
others, including an Eggplant Parmesan recipe from Rachel.
All money from the sale of the $10 books goes to fund-raising
efforts. It's sold at the hair salon where Wilkins' works,
Coiffeurs By Charles, 13823 W. Eight Mile, Detroit.
"There's a flip side to being diabetic," says Rachel, who
writes poetry and hopes to someday own a publishing company.
"It forces you be more organized; it teaches you time
management. If you stick to the diet and the insulin, you'll
be just as healthy as the next person."