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8-year-old commits 'good deed'

After being diagnosed with diabetes, she launches website to raise money for a cure
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Little 8-year-old Eden Perry wants to be a rock star when she grows up, although she’s not a fan of being the center of attention.

She’s shy around people she doesn’t know and speaks softly with an Australian accent. When she gets nervous, she’ll bury her head into her dad, Mike Perry. Sometimes she gets unwanted attention in public, like when her family eats at a restaurant and she pulls a syringe out of the kit she carries with her everywhere she goes.

“When I tell people that I have diabetes, they look at me weird,” Eden says.

But the second grader at Dry Creek Elementary School has not shied away from using her story to bring awareness to juvenile diabetes — a chronic, autoimmune disease with no cure. With the help of her graphic designer dad, Eden launched a website called “Eden’s Effort” to raise funds for Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund International.

About 25.8 million kids and adults in the United States have diabetes, including type 1 and — the far more common — type 2, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 8.3 percent of the population. Each year, about 15,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, or roughly 40 children every day.

Eden’s website has raised $7,000 since launching in January, with a last-minute anonymous $900 donation that helped her reach this goal. Her classmates also helped, giving her $51.86. Both sets of grandparents donated $1,000.

Eden finished the fundraiser Feb. 5 with a flourish, by chopping off 12 inches of her wavy brown hair for Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under age 18 suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

But Eden’s Effort will keep accepting money to go toward finding a cure for diabetes.

The idea for the website stemmed from a family movie night in November when the Perrys watched “Pay it Forward,” which chronicles a young boy’s attempt to make the world a better place by passing on good deeds.

Eden’s good deeds have already helped at least one family who, through her website, recognized the warning signs for diabetes and had their daughter tested — the results returned positive.

Jaedyn Jurtensen, 9, is best friends with Eden’s 10-year-old sister Alyssa, and has checked out the website.

“When you go on her website and read her story, it’s so sad,” Jaedyn says. “You feel really bad.”

The Perry family had lived in Australia for eight years before moving to Roseville in January 2010 to be closer to relatives. During a camping trip in Napa over the summer, to celebrate Alyssa’s birthday, Eden drank water nonstop and kept using the toilet. Then, as Heather Perry applied sunscreen to her daughter, she noticed she felt skinny.

Back in Australia the Perrys had a friend whose child had diabetes, so they knew the warning signs, which include extreme thirst, frequent urination and sudden weight loss.

If undetected, diabetes can pose serious health threats to sufferers. Type 1 diabetes can easily be mistaken for more common illnesses, such as influenza, which is why recognizing symptoms can save a life.

Eden’s parents took her to a medical clinic but doctors there didn’t have the ability to test for diabetes. So they went to an emergency room where doctors diagnosed her with diabetes. She spent three days in a hospital. Her pancreas had stopped working and her body could no longer produce insulin.

“I was really scared for her,” Alyssa says, during a break from running around the house with Jaedyn.

A healthy pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that changes glucose in the blood into energy. This glucose comes from the food and drink a person consumes. A person with type 1 diabetes doesn’t produce insulin. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, causing high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, which can lead to ketoacidosis, coma and death.

People with diabetes control the disease through diet, exercise and insulin. Eden needs at least four shots of insulin injected into her blood stream each day to stay alive.

“When we found out she had diabetes, we were devastated,” Mike Perry says. “But she’s been fantastic.”

His daughter must carry a medical kit everywhere she goes — school, grocery stores, playgrounds — that includes a bottle of insulin, syringes and other equipment. For instance, if Eden passes out from low blood glucose levels, someone can administer a shot of sugar using a tool in the kit.

Eden’s levels have to be tested five times a day — at breakfast, lunch, when she gets home from school, dinner and before bed. At school, the nurse tests her and then calls her dad with the results and together they decide what insulin amount Eden needs. There’s no perfect equation for this.

The Perrys monitor the food their daughter eats to make sure she avoids carbohydrates, such as breads, cereals, pasta and items with lots of sugar, such as juice. She snacks a lot throughout the day, munching on cheese sticks, Slim Jims, Pringles Stix and Jelly Belly fruit snacks. The hardest thing, says her dad, is when a kid brings cupcakes to school and she can’t have one.

Otherwise, Eden is like any other precocious and fun-loving kid.

“It hasn’t really stopped me from doing things,” Eden says.

She still draws and paints — she loves art — and plays basketball, baseball and tetherball. Plus, her dad says she’s “really good at watching TV,” especially episodes of “Hannah Montana” and “Good Luck Charlie.”

“She’s been so strong, you can’t help but be strong,” Mike Perry says. “She’s just awesome. She just goes with the flow.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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Warning signs of type 1 diabetes
· Extreme thirst
· Frequent urination
· Sudden vision changes
· Sugar in urine
· Fruity, sweet, or wine-like odor on breath
· Increased appetite
· Sudden weight loss
· Drowsiness, lethargy
· Heavy, labored breathing
· Stupor, unconsciousness

Source: Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund International