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Denogean: Youngster talks the talk for juvenile diabetes

Jonathan Vogel, 11, gets his blood sugar checked by his father, Ben, Monday afternoon during a break in a basketball practice at St. Gregory College Preparatory School, 3231 N. Craycroft Road. Jonathan and his brother Daniel, 8, have juvenile diabetes.

Jonathan Vogel, 11, gets his blood sugar checked by his father, Ben, Monday afternoon during a break in a basketball practice at St. Gregory College Preparatory School, 3231 N. Craycroft Road. Jonathan and his brother Daniel, 8, have juvenile diabetes.

Most people struck with juvenile diabetes dream of a cure. Jonathan Vogel, 11, works toward one.

The Orange Grove Middle School student with a gift for gab has raised close to $43,000 for the University of Arizona Steele Children’s Research Center in the past two years. He has given speeches on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. And he traveled to Washington, D.C., with the rest of his family in March 2007 to meet with senators and representatives and urge them to approve funding for National Institutes of Health diabetes research.

“You either just sit back and wait for the cure or you do something to get to it,” he said in an interview at his family’s North Side home this week.

Jonathan’s 8-year-old brother, Daniel, received a diagnosis of juvenile or type 1 diabetes in 2002 at age 2. Jonathan remembers how his little brother used to hide from their mother when it was time for insulin injections.

One spring morning three years ago, Jonathan told his mother he had gotten up to urinate five times the night before. He recognized it as a symptom of diabetes. A finger stick to test his blood sugar confirmed a glucose level three to five times normal. Jonathan shed no tears, but simply asked for an insulin shot (approved by a doctor) so he could play baseball.

It was, after all, “the first day of baseball season, opening day for the whole league,” and Jonathan had no intention of missing it. Medical testing confirmed the diagnosis the next week.

“If I was the first person in the family, I guess I would be more affected, but I’m just used to it,” Jonathan said.

His matter-of-fact acceptance of the disease made it easier for his parents, Rosi and Ben Vogel, to accept, but it’s a constant challenge.

“It’s one of those diseases that burns you out, the day to day to day,” Rosi Vogel said.

Juvenile diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

Without the hormone insulin, glucose stays in the blood and can damage all the organ systems in the body.

Jonathan and Daniel must pay constant attention to how much and what they eat and to their exercise level.

They prick their fingers nine to 12 times a day for glucose checks. They are now able to avoid multiple daily insulin injections by having insulin delivered through an insulin pump, but the site of the pump needs to be changed regularly to avoid scarring.

“Particularly for kids, it’s not an easy disease to have,” said Dr. Mark Wheeler, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the Steele Center.

But Jonathan stays on top of his diabetes, Wheeler said.

In 2006, Jonathan was asked to speak briefly at the local Fathers of the Year awards dinner and gala. His father is a member of the Father’s Day Council executive board.

It went so well that he was asked to give a longer presentation in 2007. Those attending the 2007 dinner were so moved by his speech that they donated $13,000 for the Steele Center’s Angel Wing for Children with Diabetes.

The money went to purchase a variety of equipment, including a machine that does a number of blood tests from a finger stick, which the children are used to, instead of requiring a trip to the laboratory and a needle blood draw for the kids, Wheeler said.

Also, the machine produces test results in five to 10 minutes, he said.

In June, Jonathan gave another speech at the Father’s Day event about living with diabetes and raised $30,000.

The funds will be used to purchase continuous glucose monitoring devices for the patients of the Angel Wing. These devices give glucose readings every five minutes and show trends, which allow doctors to fine-tune their insulin dosages.

Maintaining normal glucose levels is key to preventing or reducing the complications of diabetes over time, Wheeler said.

The Vogel family has participated in the Walk to Cure Diabetes each year since Daniel’s disease was diagnosed and has raised $20,000 to $25,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation through the event, said Rosi Vogel, who is a board member of the Tucson chapter of the JDRF.

Aside from helping to raise funds for diabetes research and treatment, Jonathan is a normal kid who does well in school and likes math, basketball and playing guitar and piano.

He’s proof that one can live – in the fullest sense of the word – and even give with a chronic disease.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com and 573-4582. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.

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