Type 1 diabetes father, longtime JDRF volunteer turns passion into action


It was over two decades ago when I had my first introduction to type 1 diabetes (T1D).

My wife and I scheduled an appointment for my son to see a pediatrician for a sore throat. With no connection to T1D, we didn’t realize other symptoms he was showing, such as excessive thirst and urination, were also tied to Type One.

After a visit with the pediatrician and a blood sample, we were on our way back home. It wasn’t until later that day we received a call from the doctor’s office saying, “You need to bring your son to the hospital right now.” At 7 years old, with a blood sugar level of 750 mg/dL, he was diagnosed with T1D.

It was a time when our family scrambled to really understand what this disease was and how to manage it. Our son’s endocrinologist introduced us to JDRF and since then, I believed JDRF to be the best vehicle to finding a cure.

When you or someone you love is newly diagnosed, you have to create a new normal. You can get depressed thinking this is a lifelong diagnosis as there is currently no cure, but JDRF One Walk is my avenue to not accept this. We are going to cure this.

I first embraced this mission by volunteering for what is now called JDRF One Walk – an annual event that brings together thousands of people to change the future for everyone living with T1D. From handing out refreshments and kicking off opening remarks to traffic control and helping to launch One Walk in Lansing, I’ve done a little bit of everything. Not only is it great for families, friends and neighbors to see the sense of camaraderie One Walk brings, but it’s also great for the kids because they see thousands of people who are helping bring them closer to a cure. It has given me purpose.

Each year JDRF raises significant funds, through events like One Walk, to find a T1D cure. With targeted therapeutics, the organization also does a great job of mapping out what can be accomplished with funds that are raised. I’ve seen it firsthand. There have been so many advancements since my son’s diagnosis, including the Continuous Glucose Monitors and insulin pumps. My son has done a tremendous job managing his T1D – largely because of these technological breakthroughs that have allowed him to do so.

Now, 23 years after his diagnosis, my son is finishing his doctorate degree in nursing, and this past July, he and his wife gave my wife and me our first grandchild! My son becoming a father renewed my commitment to finding a cure, because I want him to be able to be around for a long time for his son.

As I continue to carry out my mission, there are a lot of opportunities for people who share my vision to get involved with JDRF One Walk - Detroit, such as assisting with parking, passing out refreshments and snacks, greeting people as they arrive and helping with registration.

I urge you to become a volunteer and join thousands of Metro Detroit community members on Sept. 17, 2017, at Milliken State Park/Detroit RiverWalk to help us turn Type One into Type None: http://bit.ly/OneWalkVolunteer

At the end of the day everybody wins. It’s all about finding a cure.

Don Smolenski
Emeritus JDRF Metro Detroit Board Member
Grosse Pointe, Mich.