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Encinitas family raises funds, awareness for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

Brothers Max and Kevin Gallagher
Brothers Max and Kevin Gallagher, who both have Type 1 diabetes, held a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at The Habit.
(Courtesy)

On Oct. 22 Kevin and Max Gallagher, a pair of brothers from Encinitas, held a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) at The Habit in Encinitas, where both young men work. Twenty percent of the proceeds that day went to support the cause very close to their hearts as both brothers are living with Type 1 diabetes.

“It was really touching to see all the different people coming in to support JDRF,” said Kevin, 18, a La Costa Canyon High School grad now attending Mira Costa College.

Every year JDRF holds the One Walk in Balboa Park as one of its biggest fundraisers of the year and the Gallagher family has participated and fundraised for the walk every year since Kevin’s diagnosis in 2012. Their team is now called T1Dx2, reflecting the seemingly impossible double diagnoses of two boys in one family. Kevin said his mother Sandy is “a superstar behind the scenes,” always working to raise awareness and funds, advocating for her children and others while serving on the JDRF San Diego board.

“My whole goal as a mom is to find a cure and make them well,” Sandy said.

About 40,000 people, many of them children, are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes every year. JDRF works to fund innovative research, advocates for government action and works to provide a support structure for the community, including resources for those newly diagnosed, answers for health insurance questions and help for children and parents about managing and living with diabetes.

Max, a 17-year-old senior at La Costa Canyon, said many people don’t understand what diabetes is or the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, which share the same name but are quite different. He said sometimes there is even a stigma attached to the disease.

According to JDRF, diabetes is the name given to disorders in which the body has trouble regulating its blood-glucose or blood-sugar levels.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune system. When you have T1D, your body stops producing insulin and people with T1D become dependent on injected or pumped insulin in order to survive. The causes of T1D are not fully known and there is currently no cure.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is often diagnosed later in life and can be due to genetic predisposition or behavior. T2D is a metabolic disorder in which a person’s body still produces insulin but is unable to use it effectively. According to JDRF, it can be managed with diet and exercise or medication.

The dates of her sons’ diagnoses, Sandy will never forget: Kevin was diagnosed with T1D on Nov. 16, 2012 when he was 10 years old.

“I knew I was sick,” said Kevin, who complained to his parents that he did not want to school that day. He felt like he had the flu, he was very thirsty and throwing up. His parents took him to the pediatrician who urged them to go immediately to Rady Children’s Hospital.

“Kevin looked like death on a stick, he was thirsty and he had lost weight,” Sandy said. “We missed the signs.”

When the family found out that Kevin had T1D, it was a complete shock—they were clueless about the disease. Kevin was in hospital for three days while Sandy and her husband Jim had to undergo training and pass a test before they could bring him home. The training involved learning all that is involved in caring for a child with T1D, counting carbs, managing blood sugar and the equipment used that would become their new reality.

Kevin had a fear of needles and he still doesn’t know how he handled syringes for insulin injections that first year before receiving an insulin pump. “Max was the lucky one,” Kevin said of Max who got his insulin pump about a month after being diagnosed.

The day the Gallaghers lives changed again was five years later on July 14, 2017. The then 12-year-old Max came into his parents room at 1 a.m. and said: “I think I need to check my blood sugar.”

“I felt really thirsty, not a normal thirst,” said Max. It wasn’t quenched no matter how much he drank and he was urinating every 15 minutes “I just felt off.”

“I didn’t want to believe it, I was in denial,” said Sandy of her second son being diagnosed. No one in her or her husband’s family was diabetic and she wondered: where are they getting this?

Life will never be the same for Kevin and Max and T1D effects their lives every day. Their blood sugar requires 24/7 management and they must make sure they have everything they need wherever they go, as well as be mindful of their eating habits and get plenty of exercise. Thankfully, the therapies and technology for managing T1D have improved over the years— both Gallaghers use a Tandem insulin pump versus getting injections and a Dexcom automatic glucose meter, both made right here in San Diego.

On the parenting side, Sandy and Jim have to stay on top of ordering supplies and must prepare 504 plans to ensure that Max and Kevin’s schools and their teachers are aware of their disease and how to help them if needed.

Kevin said he wouldn’t say he has conquered his diabetes but he knows he can actively control it.

“If you manage it the right way it’s a small bump in the road and not a straight-up wall in your path,” said Kevin.

The brothers haven’t let the disease define them and they stay busy with work and school. Kevin hopes to transfer to UC San Diego for electrical engineering. Still in high school, Max is a black belt in karate and is interested in studying computer science in college.

The JDRF One Walk was canceled last year and this year due to the pandemic and the Gallaghers have organized their own walk for their family and supporters on Sunday, Nov. 7 on Moonlight Beach at 10 a.m. This year Team T1Dx2 has raised $17,444 toward their $20,000 goal.

“We won’t stop until there’s a cure,” Sandy said.

To participate in the walk with the Gallaghers, meet at the palm tree near the volleyball courts at Moonlight Beach. To donate, visit bit.ly/3k2NL5B

For more information about JDRF visit jdrf.org.


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