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North Vancouver family finds new 'normal'

- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Ride for Diabetes Research, Friday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Georgia Street Plaza, Vancouver Art Gallery. Info: ride.

- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Ride for Diabetes Research, Friday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Georgia Street Plaza, Vancouver Art Gallery. Info: ride.

DRESSED in a pretty blue and white polka dot dress and full of energy after a day at school - which included having her class picture taken - it's hard to believe eight-year-old Jennifer Fawley was up half the night due to high blood sugar.

The same can be said of her mother, Deborah Best, who, along with her husband David Fawley, monitored their daughter until 2 a.m., waking her up at 4 a.m. to further check on her.

Following Jennifer's diagnosis with type 1 diabetes at age five, medical events, some routine and others requiring trips to the emergency room, have become "normal" for the Lynn Valley family. Finger pokes, insulin injections and pumps, and the constant need to count and think about blood sugars and food intake are all a part of their weekly routine and Jennifer handles it like a champ.

She's not alone as according to statistics from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), there are currently 300,000 Canadians living with type 1 diabetes. Type 1, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, is typically diagnosed in people up to their 30s. Those affected are increasing by three to five per cent, with the greatest rise noted in kids ages five to nine.

Jennifer, a Grade 3 student at Boundary elementary, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008. Her condition was realized early, tipped off by symptoms including excessive thirst, which caused her parents to seek medical attention. A blood test quickly resulted in a diagnosis. "Within a few hours, we were giving her (insulin) injections, just like that, and it changed her life and our lives," says Deborah

The JDRF cites the following as other warning signs of the disease's onset: frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, increased appetite, sudden weight loss, sudden vision changes, sugar in urine, fruity odour on breath, heavy or laboured breathing, stupor or unconsciousness.

While Jennifer's diabetes is under control for the most part, and she's a happy and healthy, outgoing little girl, very much like her peers, what's different is that every day a medical event of some kind occurs. "Even if someone is well managed like her, there's still medical events, and emergencies actually happen relatively frequently," says Deborah. "You just sort of get used to it. You get used to the disease. . . . You need to adjust to a new norm."

When asked what's it's like to have diabetes, Jennifer says it's, "Not so much fun," adding the hardest part is, "You can't have what other people can eat. And my friends will share candy right in front of me," and she's unable to partake.

In light of Jennifer's diagnosis, her family members are strong supporters of the JDRF, whose mission is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research. Specially, the family participates annually in the JDRF Ride for Diabetes Research, a fundraising event targeting the corporate community. Teams of riders take turns on a stationary bike and collect pledges. Held across the country, the local event is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 23 in Vancouver, at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Deborah and her husband rode in the event last year, though this year are just seeking pledges as part of their teams (HSBC HR Joined Up and Omicron, respectively) as they'll be out of town on event day.

"The JDRF is targeting donations for research that will make a real difference and they already have a long history of making a substantial difference in the treatment of type 1," says Deborah. "It's an organization where you know your funds are going in the right place."