Why I Ride is a series of stories from people and families with a connection to T1D. I ride for myself, but there are thousands of others I ride for as well, many whose stories won’t necessarily be told publicly. This series is an attempt to share a few of those families with you. Supporting JDRF is a noble and worthy cause for many people. You can support JDRF through my Burlington ride here.
Matt and Mandy Barnard have been married for nearly 12 years, and both have type 1 diabetes. They’re not angry, and truthfully, they may even be a bit grateful. You see, Matt and Mandy first met at the Tennessee Camp for Diabetic Children when they were campers. They met because they have diabetes, so for them, it’s never felt like a curse. But years later, diabetes took on a different meaning.
Mandy was diagnosed at 6 years old, while Matt was 9 years old. Mandy’s diagnosis included a week in the hospital, but because she has an aunt with T1D, her family knew the symptoms and her diagnosis came before her blood sugars reached dangerously high levels. Two years after her diagnosis, Mandy’s mother was also diagnosed with T1D. Matt, on the other hand, had no direct connection to the disease and was incredibly sick. As his blood sugars climbed, doctors treated him for the flu, pumping him full of fluids like Gatorade. It’s a horror story the diabetic community has seen too much of lately. When it was finally revealed he had T1D, his blood sugar was nearly 1,000. (A normal blood sugar is between 80-120.)
Matt and Mandy met at TCDC as kids, which is where my friendship with them began. In their early 20s, they were married and knew kids would be part of the equation.
“We talked about the risks of both of us having diabetes, but there wasn’t a point where we ever considered not having kids,” Mandy said. “There was an understanding that we knew it could happen, but there was also the understanding that we’d lived through it and if something happened, we knew what we were doing and how to handle it.”
In part because of planning before conception and stringent control during her pregnancy, Mandy and Matt welcomed a healthy baby boy, Chase, three years into their marriage. Two years later, little sister Kinsley made the Barnards a family of four. Not long after Chase turned three, Mandy noticed the symptoms of T1D.
“I just knew. I absolutely knew,” she said. “I remember it was a Saturday morning. He woke me up in the middle of the night asking for cold water. He didn’t drink just water, so when he woke up in the middle of the night and specifically asked for water, I just knew.
“He was completely potty trained, and he’d not had an accident at night in a long time,” she said. “He’d wet the bed three times and that Saturday morning and I told Matt, ‘I think Chase is diabetic.'”
Matt told Mandy to check Chase’s blood sugar, but Mandy refused. Matt pressed her asking why she wouldn’t test him when they both had meters.
“Because then I’ll know for sure,” she responded.
When she finally tested him, he was 300.
“It’s the only time I cried about it,” she said. “I lost it.”
Fast forward a few years, and life with three T1Ds under one roof is normal for the Barnards. Mandy admits managing diabetes for Chase is more complicated than it is for her. Sometimes, she even asks the doctors questions she knows the answer to because for Chase, the answer might not be the same.
“It’s a little bit different with a kid,” she said. “The one thing that does make it easier is he’s literally seen this his entire life.”
Chase has seen his parents manage T1D, his grandmother, his aunt, even his parents’ friends.
“It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but it makes it normal,” Mandy said. “He has people he can vent to or be upset around because they understand. He has a built-in support system that your average T1D kid doesn’t have.”
For Mandy and Matt, it’s life as usual. There are no pity parties and no feelings of “why me?” There is planning and there’s advocating and there’s educating Chase’s friends, teachers and coaches, but he doesn’t skip a beat.
“He’s a baseball rockstar,” Mandy said. “He’s smart. He’s talented. He’s going to do whatever he wants to do. This will not slow him down.”