COD freshman’s diabetes fight catching on

Downers Grove, IL

Kenny Kern is quite literally a big man on the College of DuPage campus.
At 6-foot-5, he casts a big shadow for an 18-year-old college freshman. But he lives under the shadow of something bigger, and much more dangerous.

At the age of 11, at a time when kids eat junk food at the speed and ferocity of a Ferrari eating fuel, Kern was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes. And from then on, all those things kids do that make them kids, Kern would be forced to take a pass.

“It changed my life a lot,” Kern said. “Because of how it affected me, when I see an older person eating something I can’t, or going to the beach all day, or going into places all day and not having to check their blood all day and monitor what they eat, it kind of gets on my nerves. But I learned to deal with it.”

As an 11-year-old, Kern said he was very angry and thought it unfair that he should be stricken with diabetes.

“‘Why did this have to happen to me?’ These were all questions I kept asking,” he said.

Over the past seven years, Kenny tests his blood eight to 10 times a day. He takes an injection of insulin every morning, at night, and with every meal. That amounts to 21,000 injections so far over the past seven years.

The anger, he said, is subsiding, replaced with a passion to find a cure for the yet incurable disease.
For the Kern family, the revelation was unbelievably life-changing, said Ken’s mother, Mary.

“When we first found out about it we had no knowledge of what diabetes was all about,” she said.

On Oct. 14, Kenny Kern and his family will be participating in the Ron Santo Walk for A Cure in Lisle. It’s something Kern holds closer to his once angry young heart.

The Kern family, team “KA Pumpers”, has been participating in the annual event for four years now, and the team has been increasing in size, which Kenny says is “awesome.”

A special fundraising event was held Sept. 24 at Another Round Bar and Grill in Downers Grove, which graciously donated a percentage of all proceeds to KA Pumpers for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The team started with eight, and last year the team grew to 20. This year, about 30 will participate in the fundraiser designed to beat juvenile diabetes.

Kern said he first heard about the walk from friends he has met over the years who also have diabetes.

“I decided to give it a try and fight back, try the walk and raise money to find a cure for it.”

Last year, the team raised $5,515. This year, it has pledged to raise $10,000 toward the fight to find a cure for diabetes.

Tax-deductible contributions can be made by cash, check or online at www.walk.jdrf.org. Hit the donate button and enter the name “Kenny Kern”.

For the Kerns, diabetes became unwanted member of the family as the family was returning home from a trip. They were forced to stop every half hour or so for young Kenny to make a bathroom stop. He was 11 years old at the time. Mary Kern told a friend of hers, who was diabetic, and she came over and checked Kenny’s blood with her meter.

“His numbers were off the meter, which means he was over 600,” Mary Kern said. A normal blood sugar reading is about 120.

“They called the pediatrician, who said to take him to the emergency room where he would meet them. The doctor didn’t seem to be particularly alarmed,” Kern said. “So they finished their dinner and were getting ready to go when the pediatrician called again and asked, ‘Where are you?’”

Once at the hospital, Kenny’s blood was checked again, and measured 800. He was checked in, tested and diagnosed to be diabetic. The boy would spend two days in the hospital as doctors worked to get his blood sugar levels under control.

His parents spent the next several days at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove learning about diabetes and being trained in checking blood and injecting insulin.

“The hardest thing was he was going into sixth grade,” Mary Kern said. “At that age they want to start having their independence, be with their friends. But we had to monitor everything. It put his life on a stop quick, which caused a lot of anger with him.”

Day after day of instructional classes, the Kern family had to learn how to confront Kenny’s diabetes so he could stay alive. Kenny would be in and out of the hospital over the next four years.

“It was hard to control his sugar,” Mary Kern said. “He was angry, he thought it unfair, he was not very compliant.”

In 2008, he was rushed via ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital after he caught a virus, but was quickly transferred to a pediatric unit at Children’s Hospital in Chicago; his blood sugar was 1125.

“They told us he might not make it through the night, he was 13,” Mary Kern said. “The hospital pulled him through it. They did miracles. I think it was a turning point for Kenny. (Doctors) lost his heartbeat a couple times and had to use the paddles on him. All of a sudden he realized: “If I want to live I have to do more.”

Mary Kern said her son has now taken it upon himself to know everything he possibly can and does everything to make sure it doesn’t control him and that he controls it.

“It’s definitely a challenge, and one kids should not be facing,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kenny Kern plans to live his life to the edge of the limits set forth by his diabetes and continue pursuing his dream. He’s a computer guy, and he is studying game design which coincides with another one of his loves, playing video games.

“My mom kind of gets a little irritated because of it,” Kern said.

And yes, Kern said he’s optimistic a cure will be found.

“I think it’s going to happen. No matter how long it takes, I think they’re going to find a cure.”