Conor Reilly weighed 86 pounds on his diagnosis day. His blood sugar was around 400. So he did the sensible thing. He ate an entire bowl of strawberry Jell-O.
By the time he got to the hospital, his blood sugar was above 700.
He and his mom, Melinda Reilly, can laugh about it now. Four years ago, it more frightening than funny.
Conor was finishing his eighth-grade year at Princeton Community Middle School in Sharonville, and deciding where to go to high school. He and his mom both noticed changes in mood and behavior, but neither knew the cause.
“I was 14, I think. June 2, 2014. I was going into the doctor to get a physical form filled out for summer camp, and (his mom) had noticed I had been kind of moody and tired and drinking a lot of water, so she asked could it be just like hormones, or what’s going on. So the doctor decided to do a finger stick, and I was like 400-something when he did the finger stick, so he said, ‘Go home, pack some stuff and go to the emergency room,’” Reilly said as he waited for his meal at the Panera on Reed Hartman Highway.
“So we went home and about a day ago, or a day before, I decided to make Jell-O … and I knew if I left the house and went to the emergency room and came back, the Jell-O would be gone, so I ate the whole bowl of Jell-O by myself.”
Medical staff told Reilly it was not the worst horror story they have seen among recently diagnosed type 1 diabetics. “They’ve had people stop at McDonald’s on the way there,” he said.
Melinda Reilly wonders what she missed. She is a high school biology teacher, first at Winton Woods High School and most recently at St. Xavier High School, from where her son was scheduled to graduate May 31. She had a grandfather who was type 2 and a friend whose son is type 1. She understood diabetes, but did not immediately recognize it.
“So I noticed that … he would come home from school and fall asleep, or that he’d gotten up during the night to go to the bathroom or something, but he was still deciding where he was going to high school, and there was kind of a lot of stuff going on. It was the spring. I knew something was up, but that just didn’t jump to the front of my brain, like my kid must be a diabetic, even though I knew the signs and symptoms,” she said.
“I thought it was stress or maybe he had mono or something, and they needed to re-do his physical because the Boy Scouts had lost his physical form, which in the long run worked out in our favor. So, like it really hadn’t, like it was probably somewhere in there, but it hadn’t jumped out at me because that wouldn’t happen to my kid. What are the chances?”
“It was lucky for us,” Conor said of the Boy Scout form mix-up.
A Cub Scout since second-grade, Conor was worried about how his disease would affect Scouting activities. Less than a month after returning home, he was back at work at Gorman Heritage Farm in Evendale. His mom would drive to the Farm every day to give him his insulin shots. Physicians at Children’s Hospital were concerned that he wasn’t stable enough to attend summer camp that first year, because the camp was too remote.
Ultimately, Scouting helped him resume a normal life. A family friend who was also Type 1, Gunnar Graves, was nearing his Eagle badge.
“I think that kind of gave me motivation to keep going. If he hadn’t been there, there is a possibility that I would have quit, just because I would have thought it was too much,” Conor said.
Earlier this year, Conor, a member of Troop 940, based at St. John Parish in West Chester Township, completed his own Eagle Scout project. He built feeders and a roosting area for the turkeys at Gorman Farm. The project, intended to take two months, instead took seven because of design changes requested by the Farm.
“There was a lot of, at the beginning there was a lot of designing. The design changed a lot,” Reilly said. “There was a really basic plan. We were just going to have like a steel gutter cut in half, and X-beams to support one, and they would be able to take it apart and store it in the shed and bring it out next year, and then they decided they wanted something to cover it, so I was coming up with an idea to make a little roof structure over it, and then they said they wanted to be able to put in a bunch of food and just leave it for like a week, so I had to add a thing where they could pour the food in, then I had to figure out a way where they take the roof off and put the food in, and then put the roof back on, and it was just a lot of like blueprinting and kind of designing,”
Between 30 and 40 people helped Reilly with the project, which he finished Jan. 15, two days before his 18th birthday – the deadline for Eagle candidates to finish their projects.
Conor completed his other Eagle requirements with little room to spare – “in the nick of time,” he said.
“I got skating, gardening, some other interesting ones, art. I like the merit badge part just because there’s so much different stuff you can do. You can really cater it toward what you enjoy,” Conor said.
While Conor has adjusted to his new lifestyle, there have been some humorous incidents. His mom remembers when Conor joined the St. Xavier cross country team as a freshman.
“When he ran cross country his freshman year, I mean his nickname was ‘Skittles,’ because he always had Skittles in his bag and was always eating Skittles before a race … (“I arranged them in my pocket and they made a nice shaking noise,” Conor said) … I mean the funniest thing was because it was the first time he had been running, and he had been running for a couple of years, but it was the first time he had run with the diabetes, that everybody told him, ‘Well, you’ve got to know what your blood sugar is, so he took that to mean he needed to carry his meter and everything while he was out running at practice and stuff, so one of the very first practices he went to, literally, they were running just three miles, and instead of checking himself, and going and running, and coming back and checking himself again, he literally carried the little green bags they get with all of his supplies in it. Throws it over his shoulder and takes off down the road. Everybody’s like, ‘Dude, you don’t have to run with all of that.”
“It’s a learning curve,” Conor said.
The next challenge will be later this summer, when Conor leaves for college. He will attend Marquette University in Milwaukee, majoring in environmental engineering. While he has traveled since his diagnosis – he went on a school-sponsored trip to Hawaii between his sophomore and junior years and the family went on a backpacking trip to Montana last year – this will be the first time he has to assume responsibility for certain aspects of his care.
“Since she’s not going to be there, I’m going to have to get my own prescriptions and stuff, and I haven’t done that before, so it will be a different experience,” he said.
Melinda’s concerns are more sobering. A former St. Xavier student, Mark Hyams, died earlier this year at Miami University. Hyams was also a type 1 diabetic.
“I think for him, he’s like, ‘Oh, no big deal,’ because as teenager I don’t think they think about what really could happen. Me, on the other hand, it’s just terrifies me,” she admitted.
Conor prefers to focus on the positives.
“It’s not hopeless. I remember when I first got diagnosed, I thought, ‘Well, I’m never going to be able to do anything again,’ but here I am, an Eagle Scout, I’ve been to Hawaii and I climbed to the top of a mountain. Anything is possible.”
Written by: Richard Maloney, JDRF Volunteer