Dover boy rallies for diabetes research

Owen Hill, 11, of Dover, swings in his backyard. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes since he was 8 years old, Owen will join more than 160 youths from the U.S. at the JDRF 2019 Children’s Congress in Washington in July to advocate for type 1 diabetes research. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — On the surface, Owen Hill, of Dover, is your average 11-year-old kid.

But in 2015 when he was only 8 years old, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Instead of being discouraged about his condition, he embraced it for the better.

“It was a tough transition,” Owen said. “Some kids have had it since birth. But for others like myself, getting diabetes at 8 is kind of hard because you have to learn all this new information. So it was hard to adjust. But I had faith in myself and overcame it.”

Once Owen was diagnosed, he wanted to learn as much as possible to help children like himself become more aware on how to deal with the lifelong condition. He has held fundraisers and awareness assemblies to get his message across.

His work eventually led him to being selected by JDRF, the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes research, to join more than 160 youths from the U.S. at the JDRF 2019 Children’s Congress in July to advocate for type 1 diabetes research in Washington.

Owen was the only selected applicant from Delaware. Children ages 4 to 17, representing all 50 states, will participate in a number of activities on the Hill, including a congressional committee hearing to share personal testimonies that highlight the challenges of living with T1D and the need for continued funding for research projects.

Owen proudly shows off the results of a drive for JDRF at Star Hill Elementary School, which raised more than $1,600.

“I was pretty excited when I was selected because it was a chance for me to learn more about diabetes,” Owen said. “But it gives me a chance to share my story with those who can make an impact on T1D research.”

In general, diabetes patients have consistently high levels of sugar, or glucose, in their blood. Extracted from foods, primarily carbohydrates, glucose provides the energy needed for cells in the body and is transferred from blood to cells by reacting with the hormone insulin.

Insulin is produced by the pancreas, a spongy organ under the liver. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce and distribute enough insulin into the bloodstream. The lack of insulin needed to break down glucose can result in damage to vital organs, blindness, heart and kidney disease, cancer and nerve damage.

“Type 1 diabetes is different from type 2,” said Owen’s father Kyle. “Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It mostly affects people as they grow older and can be managed with weight control, exercise and good eating habits.

“But with type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin,” he added. “It means his pancreas isn’t functioning so he has to provide insulin since his body can’t do it.”

Type 1 diabetes appears during childhood or the teen years and because type 1 diabetes has no cure, it may be treated only through constant monitoring of food intake and regular insulin injections.

It was a process Owen used to hate.

Owen Hill stands with his mother Nicole, father Kyle and sisters Josie, left, and Brynn. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“It was scary at first,” Owen said. “I didn’t like shots at the time so I was always nervous, but over time I got used to it.”

Now Owen wears a monitor taped to his arm and one on his stomach that delivers insulin when needed, eliminating the need for injections.

“I don’t have to get shots anymore,” Owen said.

Cell phone apps allow Owen’s parents to monitor his condition. And the technology has eased the family’s burden of manually checking his blood sugar, especially at night.

“It makes everything easier,” Owen said. “Before I had to manually calculate how much insulin I needed depending on my blood sugar.”

Owen said his point of emphasis during the JDRF 2019 Children’s Congress will be to stress the importance of how the devices have greatly impacted his life for the better.

“I would want to explain to them how the devices help and how we should keep them,” Owen said.

Owen addresses the floor of the Delaware House of Representatives recently with state Rep. Lyndon Yearick. (Submitted photo)

“It has really helped me a lot. If it weren’t for these devices, I would have to get shots every time I eat or when my blood sugar gets high.”

Owen also is excited to meet other children like him who will be representing their states as well.

“There are going to be kids from all over,” Owen said. “I get a chance to meet other kids that are just like me. They know what I’m going through.”

For children with diabetes, treating their condition becomes a routine part of daily existence. Owen encourages kids who haven’t embraced their diagnosis to not worry and to just be themselves.

“I know it’s tough to deal with,” Owen said. “But they have to keep trying. You can manage it and still be normal. Don’t think that you aren’t normal. Just be yourself, remain positive and everything will be fine.”

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