NORTH FORK — Six months ago, 10-year-old Eli was diagnosed with Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes. Now, he’s an 11-year-old superhero participating in the Central Valley JDRF 5K fundraiser on Saturday, Apr. 2 at Woodward Park in Fresno. Eli, his family, friends and community supporters will walk together in a team known as Eli’s Superheroes! The walk starts at 9:30 a.m. with registration open at 8:30 a.m.
Just last summer, Kathy Grenos noticed her son Eli wasn’t feeling well. His energy was low, he had good days and bad days, and he was losing weight. Eli’s eyes were sunken in and Kathy remembers she could feel the bones of his spine. Besides being lethargic, he was thirsty all the time, and running to the restroom frequently.
It was over a holiday weekend that Eli’s eyesight became blurry. Kathy and her husband John decided the situation had reached a crisis point, and they drove their second-youngest son to Children’s Hospital. Including Eli, Kathy and John are parents to four boys: youngest is Tobias, 10, along with Jordan, 17 and and Nathan, 21. Kathy works at Gas ‘n Stuff.
“Elijah was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes — known commonly as T1D — on July 3, 2015,” Kathy recalls. “We stayed in the hospital for three days. His diet had to change, our level of organization had to change, and he has to eat three meals a day at the same time every day.”
T1D is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin—a hormone essential to turning food into energy. It strikes both children and adults and is unrelated to diet and lifestyle. There is no cure yet.
Eli takes four insulin shots a day, Kathy says, and requires more if he wants a snack.
“Every time he eats he has to have insulin. He can’t just come home from school and say, ‘hey, I’ll have a snack of cookies.’ It doesn’t work that way. We had to concentrate on learning how to count carbs, learning where to inject the insulin in the back of his arms, his legs, and tummy. We had to learn to do portion control.”
When Eli returned home with his family to North Fork after the hospital stay, they were looking at a completely different lifestyle than they’d been living before.
“This roller coaster ride is never going to be over,” says Kathy of the complications faced and overcome daily by her lovable boy. “His whole life he will do insulin shots and blood sugar tests.”
Kathy says that with two autoimmune diseases, T1D and celiac (which exhibits as an intolerance for gluten), life is especially tricky.
“One of the harder parts is having no gluten. It takes its toll — we have to be structured now and we weren’t a structured family.”
While the challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle are complex, the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association has also been adopted by the American Heart Association and is considered to be, for all concerned, a path to longevity and well-being.
“It’s going to be healthier in the long run,” Kathy agrees, saying that just six months after diagnosis, Eli is still in the process of getting better. “His stomach is still healing from the celiac and he only absorbs half the nutrients he takes in, right now.”
While his day-to-day health is up and down at times, most recently Eli’s check-up at the doctor was a good one, says his mom.
On Saturday, team Eli’s Superheroes! is walking to support JDRF as the organization continues to fund life-changing type 1 diabetes research and create a world without T1D.
“JDRF puts on a walk every year to find a cure for T1D and I wanted to reach out to the community and say, we’re here, too,” Kathy continues, in her efforts to create awareness around the issues her son is facing. “We live in a small community, and I want him to meet other kids that have T1D so he can talk about it with people that have the same challenges, and hopefully have somebody to help him deal with what he’s going through.
Eli’s Superheroes! want people to come out, dress as superheroes and join in the fun on Saturday.
“It’s a 5K and we plan to take our time, stroll through, accomplish what we can and make it a good day. The walk includes a wide range or participants from Bakersfield to the Central Valley. People can contact me if they want to know more. My Eli is a trouper! Please help support our group. Show him there are people who care and stand by him to fight for a cure.”