JUANDALYN RICHARDS

Juandalyn Richards

It was summertime and although Zharia, age seven, was a junior cheerleader cheering out in the hot sun, something just didn’t feel right about my little girl always being thirsty and frequently using the bathroom. It was just mother’s intuition. So I took her to the doctor only to hear an unexpected diagnosis. Hearing of Zharia’s diagnosis as a type 1 diabetic was very traumatic. I had no clue what that meant for my child, let alone our family. 

We spent Labor Day weekend at Children’s’ Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) for a weeklong diabetes education session that was crammed into 3 days. We sat in the waiting room nervous, doubtful and fearful. 

So much information was being thrown at me so quickly: insulin, carb ratio, carb counting, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, syringes, blood sugar meter… and the list goes on. I never left Zharia’s side and would often just sit and watch her sleep while feeling helpless and hopeless. Zharia was so brave learning about her “new normal”. Dr. Quentin Van Meter had such a calming spirit and was very patient and understanding, assuring us that our child was going to be okay. He checked on us each day of our stay. 

Once we returned home, I became very overprotective and was afraid to leave Zharia alone, but of course she had to go to school. Zharia was the only T1D student in the school, so we had to educate the entire school on T1D and how to care for her. The school nurse, Mrs. Jones, was an angel and is still in touch with Zharia. Dr. Van Meter and his office were a tremendous help. He referred us to Camp Kudzu so we signed Zharia up and the next summer she was able to attend Camp Barney. We didn’t know what to expect and were fearful of leaving our child alone for a week. We were nervous and anxious, but Dr. Van Meter assured us that she would be fine. We didn’t relax and enjoy a week’s “vacation” from T1D. We were a ball of nerves – well, at least I was. But when we arrived to pick up Zharia and attend the closing session, I realized how much the kids loved Camp Kudzu and didn’t want to leave. Zharia continued to talk about her experience at camp and how she became pen pals with her newfound family. She enjoyed camp so much that she reminded us of the dates the following year and for several years to come to make certain she had a spot. Zharia attended Camp Kudzu every year from age 8 to 18. For her last year of camp as a “camper”, she left a national conference in California that she was attending with her school to make sure she was at Camp Kudzu to start that Sunday. She was determined not to miss a year of camp. For the next two years, Zharia attended camp as a Counselor In Training and loved it. This year she is looking forward to attending as a counselor. 

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