WASHINGTON — The Miami Heat played 106 games in its 2013 season, ultimately going on to win the NBA championship in a thrilling 7-game series against the San Antonio Spurs.
But Miami guard Ray Allen never had a day off.
Allen’s son Walker was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2008 when he was 17 months old. At the time, Allen was playing in Game 5 of the NBA championships with the Boston Celtics.
Allen, like millions of parents, has struggled to raise a child with diabetes. Wednesday, he sat among a panel of witnesses that included Emmy-award winning actress Jean Smart and urged Congress to fund a three-year extension of the Special Diabetes Program, which aims to combat, prevent and cure the disease. As Allen answered questions, young Walker sat quietly by his side, the child’s mess of hair barely rising above the table.
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong illness typically diagnosed in children and young adults. The bodies of those affected are not able to produce insulin, a hormone in the body that converts sugar to energy the body needs.
Those suffering from the disease must monitor their blood sugar levels; otherwise they could go into comas or suffer kidney failure. However, children like Walker, who now is 6, often are unable to manage the disease on their own.
“From the moment Walker wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep, we have to monitor everything he eats and drinks,” Allen said. “We have to test his blood sugar with finger pricks 10 times a day; we have to count the amount of carbohydrates he consumes, then do the mathematical calculation required to decide how much insulin to inject – this can be as many as seven shots a day just so his blood glucose levels remain in a safe range.”
Allen told the committee that these circumstances aren’t special to him but are steps every family with a child affected by the disease must go through.
“No disease is easy, but managing Type 1 diabetes may be one of the most complicated and complex responsibilities facing any caregiver or person living with a disease,” Allen said.
The panel of witnesses drew a rare, standing-room only crowd, who laughed and cheered periodically throughout the hearing – no more so than when chairman Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida brought up Allen’s game-tying shot in Game 6 against the Spurs last month, which saved the Heat’s shot at the title.
But despite all of the Senate interns lining the wall to get a glimpse of Allen, the real focus Wednesday was on the more than 160 children present from JDRF Children’s Congress, a group who traveled to Washington to put a face on the struggles of living with diabetes and ask Congress for help finding a cure.
“Whether my generation lives to see a cure depends on research and funding. We need your help,” said 14-year-old Quinn Ferguson, who testified on behalf of the Children’s Congress.
“We’re here today because we want you to understand that this is the face of our children,” Allen said, mentioning that he hopes his son will one day be free of the disease.