Aaron Schwager combating his Type one diabetes with help from JDRF
Aaron Schwager was diagnosed with Type one diabetes in 2009. His family knew their lives would have to change drastically.
“It was very scary,” said Aaron’s mother Lara. “Until you are into Type one, until you are really living it, you don’t understand it. You can never be prepared for that diagnosis.”
Aaron, 6 years old at the time, spent five days at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia learning how to give himself shots, test his blood sugar, learning how to eat and what to do if his blood sugar was low.
Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, JDRF, a nonprofit organization that funds Type one diabetes research, teamed them with another family who had a child around the same age as Aaron. This family brought them what the JDRF calls a Bag of Hope, a backpack filled with useful tools like a testing meter, an informative DVD, books and a teddy bear named Rufus. Rufus is a bear with diabetes that shows kids they are not alone as they learn to take shots and test their blood sugar.
“It was helpful, like you’re not out in the deep end. There are people around to support you,” said Aaron.
“That’s a big mission with JDRF, really making sure people in these early stages are supported at a lot of different levels,” said Lara.
Within the same year Aaron was diagnosed, the Schwagers got involved with the JDRF One Walk and have walked every year since. Lara sits on the JDRF Executive Board and works with its advocacy team for New Jersey.
“It’s great. You have a feeling that you’re surrounded by your friends and family and other people like you. There are so many teams at the walk with their own diabetics and it’s kind of cool knowing there are a lot of people who are in the same predicament,” said Aaron, quickly adding “not that I call it a predicament because in a lot of ways it has given me a lot of opportunities.”
Finding this community helped Aaron connect with people he could relate to. Going out to eat and not being the only one who has to stop and check their blood sugar is a big deal for someone with Type one.
“JDRF is kind of like a family, everyone in the South Jersey chapter knows each other. It’s nice to know, especially when you’re first starting out, that you can reach out to people,” said Aaron.
“We say it’s the worst best family you’ve ever had,” added Lara.
Aaron’s team is called Aaron’s Avengers, a name he came up for their first walk that stuck with them. They designed T-shirts to wear while the walk with the name and a custom insignia resembling something straight from a Marvel movie emblazoned on the chest.
JDRF is the largest funder of Type one research in the world. Through research made possible by the organization, people with diabetes have a number of resources available to them today that weren’t in the past.
“JDRF’s money really goes to fund research that none of the big pharmaceuticals are willing to put money into,” said Lara
Aaron started with the traditional needles but has since graduated to more sophisticated monitoring techniques. He wears a small insulin pump that runs throughout his day as well as a continuous glucose monitor that connects to an app where both he and Lara can keep an eye on his blood sugar.
It’s important to Aaron that Type one not slow him down or stop him from doing things other kids his age do. He attends Doane Academy in Burlington City and went on a school trip to Greece this year. He has also rowed crew on the school team for the past four years.
“I don’t like using it as an excuse,” said Aaron.
For anyone who just received a diagnosis like his own, Aaron has a message: “It’s going to seem crazy and it is. It might be confusing at first, but know it will get better. You start figuring stuff out and eventually it will come intuitively.”
To find out more about the JDRF or how you can get involved in the upcoming JDRF One Walk on Oct. 28, visit jdrf.org.