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Anna Martin: A warrior in her own cause

by: Cliff Newell, 
Anna Martin and her mom, Debi, are teaming up to fight juvenile diabetes.

When it comes to fighting juvenile diabetes, Anna Martin is one of the best little fundraisers around.

Last year the fifth-grade student at Lake Oswego's Upland Elementary School helped form a team of 70 walkers that raised $7,000 for the Walk to Cure Diabetes, and Team Anna plans to raise even bigger bucks at this year's event on Sept. 28.

'We did very well,' said Debi Martin, Anna's mother. 'We got the Top Banana Award for having the biggest new family team. We had family, friends, co-workers, church friends, school friends.'

A big factor in their success was a recruiting letter written by Debi, which was 'a big hit.

'It was really touching,' Anna said. 'Mom put a lot of time into it. My brother said it was a sob story, but we didn't think so.'

The Martins (including dad Dave and brother Reid) have sent out 100 such letters this year because Anna needs every dollar and every friend she can get. Every day about 40 American children are diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and two years ago Anna was one of them.

It was during the summer of 2006 that she began losing weight, looking pale, feeling tired and drinking a lot of water.

'She lost 12 pounds, which was pretty significant,' Debi said. 'Anna had to spend three days at Emmanuel Hospital. She's been on insulin ever since.'

What Anna had acquired was juvenile diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself. In this case it was her pancreas which was attacked, and it will never again produce insulin. Anna found that her life had totally changed.

'Now it's a constant balancing game,' Debi said. 'You don't want too much insulin or not enough insulin. Both are scary. We watch everything - diet, blood sugar, exercise. We try to make sure Anna won't develop complications later in life - the side effects can be horrendous.

'There's no limit on her activities as long as we monitor her. We need round-the-clock vigilance. It's 24/7, it never goes away. We check her once or twice a night because an attack could be fatal. We always have insulin, syringes, glucose monitor, juice or glucose tablets around.

'When she got the diagnosis, we thought, 'That was our life. We would do the very best we could.''

The Martins are helped by being able to afford state-of-the-art equipment, such as an insulin pump and a new glucose monitor that Anna wears 24 hours a day.

'They're very expensive and they're not covered by insurance,' Debi said. 'We've been campaigning for insurance companies to cover this.'

All of this effort has excellent results. Anna can do practically anything she wants, including soccer, softball, tennis and golf.

'I'm a busy girl,' Anna said.

But make no doubt about it, things are not easy for this 10-year-old girl.

'It's all a challenge, everything is affected,' Anna said. 'We really have to move around. In soccer I wish I could play without stopping to have a test or drink some juice.'

Also, 'I get sick all of time. I have to say, 'I can't do this. I can't come to your house.' I always take a backpack everywhere I go.'

Truly, as Anna says, 'It's a really hard life.'

But thanks to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation it is a life with hope. And thanks to the Walk to Cure Diabetes, Anna does not have to sit back and hope other people can help her. She can play a big part in her own cause.

'The JDRF is working hard toward a cure,' Debi said. 'They're also doing big things to help kids have a better life. They're making great strides with things like finding a way to redirect pancreas cells in mice.'

While there has been tremendous public attention in recent years to Type II diabetes, which can largely be controlled with diet and exercise, Debi hopes that more focus can be placed on Type I (juvenile) diabetes, in which a victim cannot make insulin at all.

'It's so important to make a difference and try to help it,' Anna said. 'It's very important to have a cure. It's affecting our nation a lot.'

'We decided we would find a way to turn this situation around and make it something positive,' Debi said.

It is bad enough to see a bright little girl like Anna Martin deal with this disease. It is so much worse when you consider that there are 30,000 new cases of juvenile diabetes every year.

'Last year's Walk for the Cure was cathartic for our family,' Debi said. 'Seeing all of those teeny, tiny kids wearing insulin pumps was overwhelming. Yet it was affirming to see the efforts being made. It was sad and wonderful all at once.'

Now, Team Anna will be back, and it is asking for support. As Anna says, 'I love making new friends.'

The 2008 Walk To Cure Diabetes will be held on Sunday, Sept. 28, at Oaks Amusement Park in Sellwood. Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 11 a.m.

About 5,500 walkers are expected to participate in meeting the goal of raising $525,000.

To help Team Anna, register by calling 503-643-1995 or visit www.jdrf.org .