At the age of 11, Eli’s water intake doubled, followed by leg cramps that would wake him up in the middle of the night, and painful headaches and stomach aches. “At first I thought it was hormonal. He was growing fast and I thought maybe these were some of the things young boys experienced,” said his mother Jen.
“Eli suddenly passed out in the shower one morning before school. We took him to the pediatrician immediately, unable to process what had just happened and why,” Jen recalled.
At the doctor appointment, Eli was given urine tests that would indicate whether there was excess glucose in his body and ketones present, which are dangerous by-products of diabetes when there is a shortage of insulin in the blood. Eli’s urine tests revealed both, which led to his T1D diagnosis on May 19, 2014, two months prior to his 12th birthday.
“Everyone including my husband and Eli’s older sister, Avery, and younger brother, Blake, handled the news differently,” said Jen. “One thing we did decide as a family, however, was that we were not going to let it affect our lives as much as possible.”
Now 13, Eli continues to spend his spare time outdoors swimming, biking and hiking, all of which pose an extra challenge when trying to maintain normal blood sugar levels. To accommodate, Jen and her husband try to pre-plan as much as possible, always making sure Eli has snacks before activities and backups of all supplies. The Ribiats also continue to take their annual ski trip to Utah, now with extra precaution, as the mix of high altitude and physical activity both affect blood sugar.
“It took about three months for us all to get a routine down, and a year for us to finally feel the weight of anxiety and fear lighten up,” said Jen.
The Ribiats have recognized support as key when battling with T1D. Said Jen, “There is no cookie-cutter approach to dealing with this. Everybody is different and every day is different. Support, especially from the JDRF community, has been a huge component in making our family not feel alone.”
Eli remains on a mission to raise awareness for this life-changing disease. This year, he served as Youth Ambassador and shared his story at the Westin Detroit for the JDRF One Walk Corporate Breakfast. Since his diagnosis, Eli has made clear, “This is something that I have, but it does not define who I am.”
Eli’s diagnosis became the family’s impetus for a T1D-free world. Now in their second year participating in the JDRF One Walk – Metro Detroit as Team Eli’s I.V. League, the family continues to take steps to turn Type One into Type None.
More than 5,000 advocates representing local businesses, families, schools and other organizations are expected to participate in the JDRF One Walk™ at the GM Tech Center in Metro Detroit on Sunday, September 27, 2015 to raise funds for critical research to develop a cure for T1D.