Two years ago, the Starke family was living in Singapore, and mom Arpie and the kids, Mary Mac and Thomas, were visiting friends and family back in their hometown of Richmond for the summer. Keen Starke remained in Singapore for work, but traveled back to RVA for a few weeks to spend some time with his family.
Dad Keen and Arpie had noticed their daughter Mary Mac looking thinner, drinking a lot of water, and using the bathroom more frequently than usual. It was a hot Richmond summer, so they didn’t think much of it. Out of the blue, Mary Mac and her brother decided it would be fun to weigh themselves on a scale while visiting their grandparents. Mary Mac, who was eight at the time, came running back and said, “Something is wrong with the scale. It says I’ve lost weight!” After the rest of the family got on the scale to confirm its accuracy, Arpie realized Mary Mac was five to seven pounds lighter than she had been a few months earlier. Keen had already flown back to Singapore at this point, so Arpie made an appointment with their Richmond pediatrician, as they were due to fly out of the country the following week.
It was six-thirty in the morning in Singapore when Keen was awakened by a call from his wife and the news that Mary Mac had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). The young girl was admitted to VCU, where Arpie stayed with her for two days while mom and daughter learned about checking blood sugar numbers and carb counting and waited for Mary Mac’s body to be free of ketones.
“You can’t imagine the feeling of helplessness when you find out your daughter is in the hospital with a disease you know nothing about – and you are halfway around the world,” said Keen. “My first thought was, What is type 1 diabetes, and what do I need to learn to help my daughter?” Keen immediately booked a flight home.
Back in Richmond, on the drive back from the hospital, Arpie explained to Mary Mac that before dinner, they would check her blood sugar and record it in her book. Arpie recalls her daughter’s heartbreaking response: “What?! I have to prick my finger again? But I’m out of the hospital. I thought they fixed me.” Mary Mac didn’t realize that there is no fixing T1D, and that she would be testing blood glucose levels and administering insulin for the rest of her life.
JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) is the leading global organization funding research related to type 1 diabetes. Since its inception, JDRF has contributed more than $2 billion to T1D research. An autoimmune disease in which insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune system, people who have T1D experience episodes of low blood sugar and are dependent on injected or pumped insulin to survive. Approximately 1.25 million Americans currently live with T1D, which affects children and adults and can be diagnosed at any age. The warning signs of T1D include extreme thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, headaches, fatigue, increased appetite, blurry vision, and a fruity breath odor. Its causes are not fully known, and there is currently no cure.
“The mission of JDRF is to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent, and treat T1D and its complications,” says Amber Mueller, executive director of the JDRF Central Virginia Chapter. “JDRF is currently funding more than seventy human clinical trials of potential T1D therapies, the most exciting is beta cell regeneration therapy that could lead to a biological cure for T1D.”
In January 2017, the Starkes moved back to Richmond from Singapore to be a part of a clinical trial that one day might lead to a cure for T1D. The family was committed to working with JDRF and the T1D community to help raise money for research and treatments, and ultimately a cure. “We were so excited for Mary Mac to get involved with JDRF so she could meet other kids just like her, and at the same time learn about fundraising, research, and the importance of philanthropy,” said Keen.
Today, Mary Mac is a typical 10-year-old kid who happens to have a life-changing medical diagnosis, but according to her mom, T1D isn’t slowing her down. “She loves sports and is willing to try anything – soccer, basketball, softball, swimming, lacrosse, and golf,” says Arpie.
“Type 1 kids have to be so brave – every day,” said Arpie. “I am so proud of Mary Mac, and I just hope that one day she can tell her kids about the time when she had diabetes – all of the shots, the finger pricks, the Dexcom insertions, pump insertions, middle of the night lows and highs keeping her up when she should be sound asleep – I look forward to the day when that’s all in the past.”
JDRF One Walk
Sunday, October 7, 2018
Anthem, 2015 Staples Mill Rd.
Check-in at noon. Join a team or walk independently to help raise money to fund research and find a cure for type 1 diabetes. 3-mile walk begins at 2 p.m. Music, food, and fun for the family. Register/more info: walk.jdrf.org