When Debra Franco's 9-year-old son Luke was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, it was the most terrifying time of her life.
"The scariest part was how we were going to connect the dots and find the resources to be successful parents for our Type 1 diabetic child and lo and behold we couldn't find any help," she said.
Franco gathered up strength and founded the South Texas Juvenile Diabetes Association (STJDA) out of sheer need.
"Type 1 diabetes is a rather desperate disease and without resources you can imagine the crisis that families go through," said Franco, who is also the president of the organization. "We connected with other families and founded this organization for emotional support, psychological support and we are connecting the dots for diabetes management."
Franco has now joined forces with The University of Texas-Pan American's Border Health Office and Rio Grande Regional Hospital to host the first annual Diabetes Symposium: Focusing on Children with Diabetes on Saturday, May 26. The symposium, being held at UTPA's Student Union from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., is the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley. It is open to parents, educators, health care providers and others in the community interested in helping children with diabetes manage life with the chronic disease.
Felipe Salinas, a grant writer with UT Pan American's Student Affairs Division, is also helping organize the conference for personal reasons. His teenage daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was only 10 years old.
"This symposium is perfect for families like ours. It is for professionals in the community, medical personnel, school personnel and families who actually have children with diabetes to come together and learn more about Type 1 and its management and living with it and we are learning from experts," he said.
Salinas said the seminar will focus on Type 1 diabetes since it is most commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents, but Type 2 diabetes education will also be offered. Distinct from the far more prevalent Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that inhibits the body from producing the hormone insulin needed to convert food into energy. It requires lifelong insulin injections.
"Most people don't understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 and that's an issue for us as parents. With Type 1, it is an autoimmune disorder. There is nothing our children could do to prevent it, so the whole purpose of the symposium is simply to educate people in the community," Salinas said. "We believe we will learn from one another more about the support that our children need."
Franco said education is limited on pediatric endocrinology in the Valley so the whole idea behind the symposium is to bring more diabetic resources here.
"Many of our families have to travel outside the Valley for care. Our family goes as far as San Antonio, but other families go to Odessa, Houston, Dallas or Corpus Christi and that is a financial strain," Franco said. "We have composed this symposium to bring some of these professionals to the Valley. It is a great opportunity for social workers, counselors, teachers, nurses and dieticians to come and learn from specialists in the field of pediatric endocrinology."
The symposium will feature presentations by diabetes experts, including Dr. Stephen Ponder, pediatric endocrinologist and clinical professor at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center; Ryan Shafer, a professional bowler with Type 1 diabetes; and researchers affiliated with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Other presenters include certified diabetes educators, nutritionists and local health providers. The symposium will also provide an opportunity for licensed healthcare professionals to gain up to six hours of continuing education credits.
Organizers said there has been a phenomenal response from parents who will have the chance to meet with experts because so many of them see a pediatrician or family practice physician instead of a specialist.
"They are extremely excited just to have the opportunity to even speak to one of these professionals because they are so scarce here," Franco said.
Children ages 6 to 14 will also be able to participate in a Health and Wellness Kids Camp at the UTPA Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex while their parents attend the symposium. There is no charge to attend the convention or the children's camp.
For more information about the symposium and registration details, visit www.stjda.org or call (956) 631-8903.