Walk for diabetes research coming to San Ramon
By Lou Fancher
When Kendall Layous walks 3 miles with hundreds of other people Sunday at Bishop Ranch, she will be a moving miracle.
Not only that, the 7-year-old Danville resident and her family, known as Team Kendoo, will walk with the primary purpose of eliminating the global organization largely associated with keeping her and the annual walk alive.
Kendall and the other people with Type 1 diabetes at the JDRF One Walk event aim to raise more than $528,000 to fund work needed to defeat the mostly invisible, lifelong condition. The JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) supports studies that have resulted in new treatments and devices, including glucose monitors, insulin pumps and an artificial pancreas now in clinical trials and real-world testing.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes one’s pancreas to stop producing insulin. The origins are believed to be genetic and involve environmental triggers. Although diet and exercise habits do not cause it, they, along with insulin injections are implicit in the delicate balance a person with diabetes must maintain to sustain life. Type 1 diabetes impacts children and adults and at present has treatment but no cure.
Living with the condition, especially as the parent of a child with diabetes, is supremely stressful and all-encompassing. Which explains the enthusiastic participation of Kendall’s family in her care and the walk.
“This is our sixth time,” says her mother, Shonda Layous. “Kendall was diagnosed at age 2. She wears an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor. They’re on her body 24/7. They’re waterproof, so even bathing and swimming, she has them on.”
An active child like Kendall — swim team, competitive soccer, gymnastics — means diligent monitoring is vital.
“We have to have coaches, teachers, administrators, even parents of her friends know the signs of low blood sugar that can lead to unconsciousness and other traumas. For playdates, we send a Google Doc with how to keep her safe.”
Grateful for technological and medical progress made, Layous looks for silver linings in the constant cloud of worry.
“This disease is serious and life-threatening, so the baseline of stress remains constant. You get the news and think your life will never be normal again. I like to think my family has turned this into something positive by doing things like the walk. It’s taught us that we have strength and resilience. My girls have empathy beyond others their age that I attribute to knowing what people with diabetes go through.”
Zoe Francis, of Pleasanton and an occasional writer for this newspaper, has participated in the walk for two decades. Her daughter, Hannah Francis, now age 24, experienced the arc of diabetes treatment from diagnosis at age 5 to today.
“It’s so different now,” says her mother. “When Hannah was diagnosed they only had long-acting insulin. She had a minimum of five shots a day. Every time she ate, we had to give her an additional shot. It brings back horrible memories.”
Only the distance of years allows Francis to see the humor in once frantically urging her daughter to eat ice cream before having dinner in a restaurant.
“You’d give the insulin, wait 30 minutes, then have to eat. When she hadn’t, people must have thought we were crazy, forcing her to gulp ice cream down right away or her blood sugar would go too low. We just had to get carbs into her, fast.”
Francis’ daughter has had an insulin pump for years, but even a modern device doesn’t erase a parent’s nightmares.
“If she had an active evening and then a wonky meal like pizza, we had to wake up every hour to check her blood sugar. Those glucose meters were big, needed huge drops of blood and took 45 seconds; a time that seemed like forever in the middle of the night when you’re worried about your kid’s blood sugar.”
The two mothers say the most important things they’d like people to know about diabetes is its relentlessness and its cause.
“It’s not lifestyle, too much sugar, diet or exercise; things that are often a part of Type 2 diabetes,” says Francis. “It’s an autoimmune disease; just luck of the draw and they pulled the short straw. You have to constantly monitor it. You can do the same thing every day and yet every single factor — emotions, activity levels — can change your blood sugar.”
Layous highlights the invisible nature of diabetes, but manages to find hope amid the reality of her daughter’s condition.
“The challenge is what you don’t see: the balancing act they live every day just to stay alive. Managing that tightrope is unbelievable stress. But the One Walk, research and technology make it possible that people with Type 1 can expect to live a long, healthy life.”
Five days before the walk, Team Kendoo had raised $32,276, surpassing its goal of $32,000. Hannah’s Hikers last year raised $26,520 and this year five days before the event were $12,760 toward a “lofty $30,000,” Francis said. Participation — walking or not — remains open