The Antelope Valley Press (Sunday, April 24, 2004, at D1)

 

Diabetic Youth Learns to Enjoy Life to the Fullest

 

By Alisha Semchuck

Valley Press Staff Writer

(Photos by Jennefier Hernandez)

 

Diabetes certainly won’t defeat the spirit of 8-year-old Erin Hanson.

            Since being diagnosed with the condition a year ago, the youngster has taken control of her life, said her father, Jon Hanson.  Part of that control involves injecting herself with insulin shots at least three times a day and testing her blood sugar four or more times daily, as she demonstrated when her family stopped in Acton during a cross-country trek from Boston to raise diabetes awareness.

            Initially Erin’s mother and father administered the injection and checked her blood.  But, eventually the youngster’s independent nature surfaced. 

            “I like having control,” said Erin, as she relaxed in the motorhome, temporarily lodged at Californian RV Resort on Sierra Highway in Acton.

            Though the disease hasn’t hampered her social life, Erin and her parents acknowledged some changes were unavoidable.

            “We have to think ahead,” said her mother, Kathleen Hanson.  “We can never leave the house without her diabetes bag, she continued, referring to the equipment required to keep a handle on the disease.

“We always have the think about the time and her schedule, coordinating (activities) around insulin shots and blood tests,” her father added.

            Nevertheless, Erin pointed out, “I still do sports, horseback riding, acting and Brownies.”

            Of course, the youngster learned to cope with certain food restrictions, and her entire family, including sister Emily, 11, and brother Ian, 4, support her.

            “(Diabetes) taught us a lot about the human body and diet,” said her father, a law professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

            Erin acknowledged she has become much more diet conscious.”

            Her Mother said she eats more protein and slower-acting carbohydrates – old-fashioned oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta and “lots of fruits.”

            Whenever Erin forgoes ice cream, cake or candy, her brother and sister also decline the sweet treats.  “It’s truly a family effort.  Everyone’s life had to adjust,” said her mother.

            On rare occasions the family breaks from their disciplined regimen, like on Erin’s birthday recently.  She ate “a big piece of cake and ice cream” according to her father, who explained that they adjusted her insulin dosage to compensate.

            The Hansons celebrated Erin’s birthday just about midway through their seven-month, cross-country journey. They set out from their Boston home three months ago, and Kathleen Hanson was happy to visit Palmdale, the town where she lived from the age of two years until she turned seven –  a period when her father, Patrick McLoughlin, worked in the Antelope Valley Press advertising department. 

            As Kathleen and Jon Hanson headed west, they set three main goals for their trip.  They hoped to raise public awareness about a possible breakthrough in diabetes research.  They also viewed their travels as a vehicle for educating their children, who are home-schooled.  Plus, they considered the journey a source of recreation and fun for the entire family.

            Jon Hanson, currently on sabbatical from Harvard, said within the last year researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have stumbled upon what might prove to be a cure for diabetes.  Researchers injected spleen cells into laboratory mice diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes – the same disease his middle child aims to conquer.  The researcher found that the pancreas in these mice began regenerating itself and creating insulin.

            “There’s good reason to believe the same will be true in humans,” Jon Hanson said.

            However, further research must be conducted before doctors can implement the procedure on humans.  And funding is needed for a clinical trial, according to Lynne Murphy, administrative assistant to Dr. Denise Faustman, the lead researcher.

            But human trials required deep pockets.  Jon Hanson estimated the research would cost between $10 million and $12 million.

            “As a parent, I felt I could not sit back and do nothing, Kathleen Hanson said.  So she and her family took to the road.

            While spreading the word about the importance of diabetes research, the family has visited numerous national parks, where the children participated in the junior ranger programs.  They learned the significance of respecting and protecting nature, to be “good stewards of he environment,” as Kathleen Hanson put it.

            “I loved the Petrified Forest,” Erin said.

            “We were walking through ancient riverbeds,” her sister, Emily, interjected.

            “The Grand Canyon was really pretty,” Erin recalled.  She also thrilled at the sight of the Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

            “I love seeing new things, meeting new people.”

            “We met cowboys,” Emily said.

            Though they encountered fascinating people between the east and west coasts, during their California stay they never happened upon a single celebrity.  But, Erin said, if she could make one wish come true, it would be to meet actor Elijah Wood.  “I watched ‘Lord of the Rings.’  That was my favorite movie and Frodo was my favorite character.”

            For more information, visit the family website at www.hansonjourney.com.