When Kenya Whitehead was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, she was determined to not let it keep her from living her life to the fullest.
Now, four years later, she is staying true to that ideal and planning to embark on a five month trek—skiing from Vermont to Canada and canoeing back again, all between January and June of 2013.
“When I was first diagnosed with diabetes I thought I was in a bad dream,” she said. “And for a while I was just at a standstill. I was like, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I’m so different than everybody.’ I now know that’s totally not true.”
Kenya has grown up homeschooled while working on her mother Mary Perry’s farm in Maine. She has always been active—she swims five and a half hours every night—so she is excited to tackle this intense physical experience.
When Kenya was first diagnosed, Mary took her straight to the Joslin Diabetes Center. She had heard about Joslin’s excellent care, and decided that was where she wanted her daughter to go to get started.
Kenya took responsibility of her diabetes right away. She gives herself insulin shots, monitors her own blood sugars, and orders her own supplies.
“It’s been a tough road,” said Mary, “but she refuses to let it stop her.”
For Kenya, this trek will give her an entirely new level of independence with her diabetes. As self-reliant as she is at home, she will be hundreds of miles away from her support system and from fresh supplies if anything happens to her insulin or electronics.
“I’m very good at monitoring my blood sugar, and I’m good at understanding what my body needs and wants,” she said. “The thing that really worries me is that my insulin might freeze! And I’m also worried about having something for when I’m low, because it’s cold in Vermont and Canada in the winter, so I can’t really take juice.”
She is working with her current doctor, Michael Dedekian, M.D., at Maine Medical Center, on finding specialty equipment that is made for freezing cold weather. Dr. Dedekian has been an integral part of Kenya’s care. He has worked Kenya’s treatment around her insistence on caring for herself, and her unique lifestyle. Last summer, for example, Kenya went on a raw foods diet, and Dr. Dedekian made sure her meal plans fit into this life choice.
Kenya is looking forward to meeting new people and learning new things about the world around her as she travels the 600 miles to Vermont and back. She has already started raising money for the trip’s tuition by hosting fundraisers throughout her community.
But beyond her own experience, she also thinks of this trip as a message to kids everywhere with type 1 diabetes.
“This trip is really important so that other kids or teens with type 1 diabetes know that they can do everything that anybody else can do,” she said. “They can follow their dreams, do whatever they want to. And nothing is really stopping them, because that’s basically what I’m doing. I’m taking my diabetes and then doing something that I’ve always wanted to do, a dream.”