“We are affected by diabetes, so we are doing what we can.” – Salvatore Franco
The Franco Family’s story begins like many we’ve heard before, excessive thirst, frequent urination, insatiable appetite, and flu like symptoms. However, in 1973, his pediatrician didn’t have the tools needed to test then 2-year-old, Christopher Franco’s, blood sugar. His mother, Carol, took him to the hospital where she was told that Christopher was in peril. Her concerns about diabetes being the cause were dismissed until she demanded her son be tested. Carol saved her son’s life that day. But their T1D story doesn’t end there. 17 years later, Carol and Salvatore’s oldest son, Michael, was diagnosed at 25. In the years between the two diagnoses, the Francos attended a JDRF event in Philadelphia, founded the Rockland County Chapter of JDRF just 4 months later, built a community for their sons, and started a legacy that we are so proud to share today.
What is your T1D story?
Chris: It was Feb 13, 1973 and I was 2 ½ years old. My mother took me to the pediatrician with fever, sweating, screaming and not eating. My pediatrician thought it was diabetes but didn’t have the tools he needed to test me at his office, so he told my mother to take me to Columbia and have me checked. The staff at Columbia told my mother they didn’t think it was diabetes. She waited and waited and even after a long time – nothing. They told her there was nothing else they could do for me. My mom asked them if they had checked for diabetes, when they told her they didn’t she finally yelled at them to check. She saved my life.
Michael: I was diagnosed at 25 yrs old. Nov 1990- I started showing symptoms of weight loss, extreme thirst, urination and tiredness and had an idea but wasn’t sure. I went with my wife to a Giants game and during that game I had to leave my seat 12 times to use the bathroom. When I got home, I did a finger stick which showed a high blood sugar. I knew something was up and the next day went to my brother’s Endocrinologist. I was immediately put on Humalog and long acting insulin. The long acting wasn’t working and by March of 1991, I started insulin pump therapy and have been on a pump ever since. About 12 years ago I started showing signs of retinopathy in both eyes. The advancements in technology and treatment have stabilized the disease.
Chris, how did life change for you when Michael was diagnosed?
Chris: My life changed pretty quickly because Michael could not get his sugar under control for a long time. I went from being the one who needed to be told to take care of himself; to getting mad at him for doing the same. I got myself under fantastic control and because I did, I now had leverage to force him to take better control of his diabetes.
Michael, watching Chris grow up with Type 1, how do you feel your diagnosis and life are different than what he experienced?
Michael: I remember growing up and all the challenges he had. Back then we had no technology; squeezing diapers to do urine testing. I remember the nights he had lows- holding Chris down to give glucagon. I remember when he was diagnosed; I was 8, so it wasn’t as hard of a transition for me 17 years later when I was diagnosed. My diagnosis helped me understand what Chris was dealing with. But I feel I had it easier because better technology was available to help me manage and control my levels. The biggest food sacrifice I had to make and struggled with was pasta, which I ate weekly because I didn’t know how carbs affected my sugars at first.
What inspired your parents to take the leap and found a chapter?
Chris: So, after I was diagnosed my parents did their research on T1D, what they would need to do to keep me healthy, and how their lives would now change. My father met with the team in Philadelphia and came back eager to open a chapter in New Jersey and began fundraising. That started their close relationship with Carol Lurie (Co-founder of JDRF, Formerly JDF). They contacted the Rockland Journal News to take out advertisements to get the word out and got a featured article on the front page of the newspaper about our journey with T1D. That’s how the Rockland/Bergen/Passaic Chapter of JDF was started in 1973. They were told life expectancy for those with T1D was not very long and they wanted to do everything in their power to see that I lived a long and normal life. Obviously with the millions of dollars we’ve raised over the past 50 years and my health today, they did their job and I couldn’t be more proud or thankful that they did.
What made you stay involved with JDRF as adults?
Chris: After contributing as a donor, I decided I wanted to get more involved behind the scenes to help with the great work JDRF was doing. I got more familiar with the research and how much they were campaigning for such things as better ways to control and regulate blood sugars and stem cell research. Now that I am more familiar with what is happening, I want to be a bigger part of it.
Michael: I got back involved when I became an avid cyclist. My doctor had told me I needed more exercise to help control blood sugars, which would help with retinopathy and so I went to an ADA ride in 2017. The next year I was looking for a local ride and saw JDRF Ride to Cure in Saratoga. Eve Goodnow from JDRF contacted me, and the rest is history. I fell in love with the community of people. What really sealed it for me was last year when I was in California. I went to visit Medtronic after being one of the first people in NJ on the 670g, then becoming an ambassador for them and was blown away by JDRF’s involvement with Medtronic.
How has JDRF impacted your life?
Chris: People know that I have T1D and aren’t afraid to talk about it. I get calls from friends and friends of friends who know someone that was recently diagnosed. I am more than willing to be that shoulder to lean on or point of reference for anything they may need to ask. It has also created new friendships through fundraising that are sure to last a lifetime. I am still in touch with people that were involved in the original Rockland/Bergen/Passaic chapter with us.
Michael: They have helped guide me with participating in clinical trials. I feel fortunate that I’m able to speak with others dealing with T1D and that I can support newly diagnosed families by being a volunteer at JDRF.
What advice would you give to someone that is newly diagnosed?
Chris: I would say to get informed, read a lot, and talk to people around them to learn as much as possible to be able to live a full life with T1D.
Michael: I would tell them to speak with their doctor about how to treat T1D and help them connect with JDRF as a resource for information and guidance. I would also speak to them about finding trusted sources and not use the internet for treatment or guidance.
What should attendees at the Golf Classic look forward to?
Chris: They can look forward to a fun filled day with friends at a beautiful golf course and facility. They can win some fantastic prizes in our silent auction and tricky tray raffle all while supporting our event. They should look forward to hearing what their donations are supporting and the strides we are making in improving lives and making living with T1D as comfortable and easy as possible (not that it is ever easy).
What are you most excited to experience at All In for our Heroes?
Chris: By having a piece about myself and my family mentioned, I’m hoping to drive many of my friends to come out and learn more about what we’re doing while they enjoy themselves at the event.
Michael: Meeting and connecting with new people that will be at the event for the same goal of raising money to help cure T1D.
Why do you participate in the ride every year?
Michael: Once you ride you get addicted. I went the first year and fell in love with it. I came home and talked about it so much that my wife came the following year to volunteer. I even talked my bike shop into putting a team together and to all ride together. Thursday and Friday night events leading up to the ride were fun and inspiring with the whole group together. I was amazed at how much money we raised with one single event. Everyone supporting each other- blew me away how many people are at the finish line. It’s hard to explain it unless you are there but, it’s amazing!
In 2020, JDRF is commemorating 50 years of T1D advancements. What stands out to you the most?
Chris: Well, being diagnosed so young, it’s really the improvement in treatment options that stands out. It is so much easier now to treat and live with T1D. If you look at the picture in the article, they wrote about my parents back in ’73, I was sitting on the counter while my mother dipped a test strip in my urine. Now we can look at a screen to see blood sugar- it’s a life changer.
Michael: The impact that JDRF has had on advancements in helping facilitate hybrid closed loop insulin pumps with the FDA. The new advancements coming in 2020 which allow people with T1D have a more normal quality of life.
What does a cure mean to you?
Chris: More than anything, a cure to me would be the pinnacle of all the hard work, years of endlessly raising money that my family and friends have done with the hope that I would be able to live a normal life one day and not hearing of anyone saying their child was diagnosed and is having issues with T1D. My father would be proud.
Michael: Never having to hear of anyone’s life being taken by T1D ever again and giving all current diabetics and new qualify of life.
In 2020 we are commemorating 50 years of strength, community, support, and research advancements. Thanks to the incredible efforts from the Franco Family and the legacy they have left behind, we are closer to ending T1D than we have ever been before. Join Chris and Michael at All In for Our Heroes, Golf Classic, or the Ride program and leave your impact on this special year.