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Families gather strength to fight diabetes

A Southwest mom starts a network to help kids stay healthy together

Brynna Hurwitz was accosted with a flood of information when she found out her 7-year-old son Benton had Type 1 Diabetes in 1999.

As doctors told her how Benton's pancreas doesn't create enough insulin and he would have to monitor his blood sugar levels for the rest of his life, Hurwitz said her mind couldn't grasp it all. Insulin, ketones, carbohydrates, exercise, injections - it was all too much when coupled with the emotions of seeing her only child in a hospital bed.

When the shock wore off, Hurwitz began to get organized. Her ideas would grow into the Children's Diabetes Network, a small nonprofit dedicated to helping families cope with the disease.

'I felt so frustrated,' she said. 'I wanted to keep learning.'

Hurwitz had to create her own organization because she found that the information she wanted wasn't readily available. She began talking to other families and planning informational seminars and family events that got bigger each time they were held.

From making phone calls and organizing events in a spare room in her home seven years ago, Hurwitz has expanded her organization into an office across from the Multnomah Post Office.

'Having a headquarters is great. We're more public here. People can see us and drop by,' Hurwitz explained of the office that CDN moved into in July.

More than a just the new location, the network has grown to include a board of directors, a group of volunteers and an employee who maintains the office and records.

CDN also has a newsletter that goes out to about 2,000 people from all over the state and a detailed Web site, in addition to hosting about six events a year. Presenters at the seminars include people living with the disease, experts and doctors from local hospitals.

The experts share their knowledge on new technological advances and how to cope with the disease at every age. They inspire the children that it's possible to live healthy, productive lives despite the disease.

Beyond the informative programs, the group also holds fun events for kids, giving them a chance to do things like go bowling or build birdhouses with other kids who are dealing with similar situations.

The organization sustains itself through grants, donations and by charging a small fee for the seminars (though scholarships are available.)

When it comes to a child dealing with diabetes, there is a lot of support that comes from families getting together and sharing their experiences. According to Hurwitz, some parents find that their child initially does fine with the diagnosis but starts to rebel against it once he or she realizes the disease is not going away. Some parents struggle with trusting their teenagers as they begin taking control of their own care. Through networking with families and sharing stories and resources, many parents can cope better with the challenges their families face.

'The first diagnosis is terrifying,' Hurwitz admitted. 'Things do get easier,' she said.

As the founder of the organization, Hurwitz said that the spirit of the organization is one of optimism. Instead of dwelling on the complications associated with the disease, the Children's Diabetes Network works to show positive examples of people who thrive despite diabetes.

'Having a child with diabetes, you'll run into people who say 'My uncle lost a leg or my grandpa died from the disease,'' Hurwitz said. 'I'd rather focus on what's positive. If you can keep your numbers at a normal range, you can live as long and normal a life as anyone.'

Beyond helping families who have already been diagnosed with the disease, another of the organization's missions is to help parents recognize the warning signs of diabetes - gray looking skin, weight loss and frequent urination are all symptoms that could point to a child with the disease.

The Children's Diabetes Network is located at 7830 S.W. 40th Avenue, Suite 1. For more information about the organization, please call 503-595-6598 or visit the Web site at www.childrensdiabetes.org.