JDRF One Walk Spotlight: Exploding Potatoes

Renee Chaney’s son Alex was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) two years ago, at the age of eight, and it was a time that Renee and her family will never forget. “We had to take an ambulance from the emergency at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP) to the Monterey Airport and then they transported Alex into a helicopter to arrive at the Children’s Hospital in Walnut Creek. I was worried, but Alex thought the ride was awesome,” she says. The family spent five days at the hospital and every day Alex struggled with the multiple injections and finger pricking, crying and fighting them every time. While still at the hospital, one of the nurses called her close friend whose son also has T1D. The next day twelve-year-old Colby and his family came to the hospital to meet Alex. Once Alex met Colby – a boy just like him – he wasn’t as scared, he felt less alone and he became ok with the injections and finger pricks. The two boys remain friends to this day and Alex is now inspired to be a mentor himself.

As the family adjusted to their new normal, the first thing Renee wanted to do for her son was to educate his schoolmates and teachers about T1D. She was worried that other kids would not understand and would be afraid of what Alex was going through so she asked Alex’s teacher to show his class a JDRF video that explains what T1D is to children. “One of his classmates was even brought to tears and walked right over to Alex to give him a hug,” Renee says. Alex’s friends have looked out for him every day since and he is very appreciative of their support, and tries hard to be a good friend in return. In fact, his classmates recently voted for him to receive the “Fabulous Falcon Award” for always being kind and respectful inside and outside of the classroom.

Over the past couple of years, Renee increasingly felt the need to volunteer and give back to her community, but she didn’t know how that would fit into her life. “I received an email invitation from JDRF for a wine tasting to learn about how to get involved,” she says, “and a light bulb went off in my head – I wanted to be an advocate for my son and everyone else who lives with T1D. I can’t do a lot financially but I know I can help in other ways,” she says. As a Product Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, leading teams in strategic planning and execution, she naturally felt pulled to the JDRF One Walk committee.

Joining the JDRF community has helped Renee see T1D from a different perspective. Recently, at a Walk committee meeting, she mentioned that she gets frustrated when her son does not always remember, or want to, pay attention to his T1D. Another committee member, an adult living with T1D, said that she sometimes forgets –or doesn’t care too. That was an eye opening moment for Renee; she realized that, as a parent, she will always naturally worry about her son’s happiness, safety and health, but she needed to think of her son as his own person who shouldn’t be expected to be perfect all the time.

“Not only am I excited to help with the planning for an event that supports the possibility of a cure someday – I’ve also been able to meet a great group of people who have already helped me be a better mom to my kids by learning a different perspective about how to handle type 1 diabetes,” says Renee.

Alex is now ten and is beginning to take responsibility for his own T1D management. This summer, he was in a two-week multi-sports camp that did not have a nurse on staff. Renee gave a presentation to the counselors and connected with one of the coaches who has a son with T1D, so she felt confident in letting Alex take on this new challenge. He successfully completed the camp, counting his own carbs and calculating boluses on his own. He even really enjoyed wrestling–despite wearing a continuous glucose monitor and pump on his arms.

Renee and her family are excited for their first Walk at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove on October 14. Renee, Alex, and his sister Sierra who has been wonderfully supportive since he was diagnosed, formed a team and named themselves Exploding Potatoes. They are actively fundraising by sending letters to everyone they know and using the Walk participant center Facebook tool. Join the Exploding Potatoes at the Walk in Pacific Grove, donate to the Walk, or find a Walk near you in the Bay Area this fall by visiting walk.jdrf.org today.