From the top of a hill, 17-year-old Jake Facciani flung himself down a 200-foot-long sheet of plastic slickened by baby shampoo and bursts of water from a firehose.
As he surfed a giant slip-and-slide Saturday afternoon at the Hidden Valley Country Club in Salem, Facciani was joined by about 200 other young people in an annual fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Unlike most of the other kids who shrieked and slid down the hill, Facciani knows what it’s like to have Type 1 diabetes, once referred to as juvenile diabetes.
And unlike most of the other 1.3 million Americans who suffer from the disease, he knows what it’s like to have a brother and a sister with the same diagnosis.
Saturday’s fundraiser was a family event for the Faccianis.
The family of six has been disproportionately affected by a disease that can send blood sugar levels fluctuating wildly to dangerous highs and lows that require constant monitoring.
After seeing how their children were affected, Cheryl and John Facciani decided four years ago to organize the slip-and-slide fundraiser to help others.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to see all these people here,” Jake Facciani said. “They all want the same thing.”
That would be a cure for an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin producing cells of the pancreas in both children and adults. Proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward JDRF’s efforts to find better treatments and, perhaps someday, an end to the disease.
Cheryl and John Facciani have been waging a battle against Type 1 diabetes since learning in December 2013 that their daughter Bella, now 11, had the disease.
Cheryl Facciani remembers conducting some online research from the hospital that day and being relieved to learn that the odds of another family member getting the disease were less than 3 percent. Then just one week later, their son Ben, now 13, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“Unbelievably, lightning had struck again,” Cheryl Facciani said.
Three years later, older son Jake was diagnosed with the same condition. “It was shocker,” she said.
The past four years have been “a 24-hour battle with a disease that never takes a vacation or leaves you alone to go to school or play with a friend,” Cheryl Facciani said.
As Jake, Ben and Bella demonstrated with repeated rides Saturday down the slip-and-slide, their disease does not preclude the daily activities and athletics that their peers enjoy. But there’s always the risk of a spike or dip in blood sugar levels that could send them into a seizure or coma.
All three children must receive daily insulin injections and have implants to monitor their glucose levels. Jake and Ben carry inhalers to stave off an episode.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, quick and severe weight loss, headaches and vomiting. The symptoms are often mistaken for the flu and not detected early enough, Cheryl Facciani said.
Jake, who’s on the tennis team at Hidden Valley High School, said he has to be on guard constantly for a sudden drop in blood sugar that can leave him light-headed and listless.
“It’s like having cement blocks taped to your feet when you’re on the tennis court,” he said.
Having the disease “sort of made me grow up faster, because most people don’t have to deal with this,” he said.
Over the past three years, the slip-and-slide event has collected about $9,000 in donations.
Sedrick Hayes, a member of the Fort Lewis Volunteer Fire Department, hooked a fire hose to a nearby hydrant and kept a steady flow of water on a strip of plastic that stretched down a hill on the driving range of the Hidden Valley golf course.
Then came a steady flow of thrill-seekers.
“Any time we can make the kids laugh, I enjoy that,” he said.
“Our hope with this event is to raise awareness about Type 1 diabetes and its signs and symptoms, while bringing some understanding about the disease to our community and raising money for JDRF,” Cheryl Facciani said.
“We want it to stop,” she said. “I don’t want one more kid diagnosed.”
About Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and—at present—nothing you can do to get rid of it.
About JDRF: JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. Our mission is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications. To accomplish this, JDRF has invested more than $2 billion in research funding since our inception. We are an organization built on a grassroots model of people connecting in their local communities, collaborating regionally for efficiency and broader fundraising impact, and uniting on a national stage to pool resources, passion, and energy. We collaborate with academic institutions, policymakers, and corporate and industry partners to develop and deliver a pipeline of innovative therapies to people living with T1D. Our staff and volunteers throughout the United States and our six international affiliates are dedicated to advocacy, community engagement, and our vision of a world without T1D. jdrf.org or @JDRF on Twitter
About JDRF – Greater Blue Ridge Chapter: Covering over 30 Northeastern Virginia counties and cities, The Blue Ridge Chapter provides support for those living with type 1 diabetes and raises funds for T1D research through a variety of events, including its annual Star City Denim and Diamonds Gala; One Walk in Roanoke; and the Ride to Cure Diabetes. facebook.com/jdrfgreaterblueridge