Ben Myers is a 16 year old junior at Peninsula High School and, like most of his peers, he has a busy life of school, sports and starting the arduous college search process.
Unlike his schoolmates, he is also battling Type 1 diabetes. His body cannot produce insulin, resulting in a lifelong disease can be managed but not cured.
“I have to test my blood five times a day and give myself insulin shots seven times a day,” Ben said. “Right now it’s my eighth year with diabetes so I am pretty experienced with it.”
Myers was diagnosed when he was in third grade after he and his family started noticing odd symptoms.
“I have always played sports and I noticed I wasn’t as athletic as I normally was,” Ben said. “I was always thirsty and going to the bathroom a lot. And I started getting in trouble for dazing off at school and that was really unlike me.”
Ben went to see a doctor. The symptoms were textbook signs of diabetes so the doctor tested his blood sugar.
“He told me I had to go to the hospital right away,” Ben said. “My blood sugar was crazy high. It was 600 and a normal level is 70 to 150.”
“The car ride from Palos Verdes to Long Beach was the longest 30 minutes of my life,” he said. “I remembered being at Legoland a couple of years earlier and seeing a kid taking a shot before lunch. I had told myself that I never want to have whatever disease that kid had. And now I did.”
The diagnosis was even more shocking to the Myers family because they had no history of diabetes.
“That’s the craziest part,” Ben said. “I’m the only one in four or five generations that has it.”
The doctors told Ben that his diabetes is often genetic but it can also be caused by an accidental immune response to a previous cold or flu. His immune system may have attacked a healthy organ, in this case the pancreas, instead of the virus.
Being diagnosed with a potentially fatal, lifelong disease that requires daily maintenance and lifestyle modifications would be a major blow to any person, let alone a child. But Ben bounced back quickly.
“I decided I would try to treat it as something I just have to deal with and still live a normal life,” Ben he said. “And I wanted to get involved to help other kids.”
The same year Ben was diagnosed with diabetes, he participated in a fundraising walk for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), an organization that spreads awareness about the disease and raises money for its cure. Ben was instantly struck by the sense of community, support and service JDRF provided for kids like him.
“I decided I wanted to help more and help spread the word about juvenile diabetes,” he said. “So I asked JDRF how I could get more involved and they made me a youth ambassador.”
Ben became the first youth ambassador of the Orange County chapter of JDRF. He now assists with the Los Angeles chapter, as well.
“Basically, I go around and speak at events and try to raise money,” Ben said. “I just try to put a face to diabetes.”
That face has popped up all over the greater L.A. area lately as Ben’s involvement with JDRF continues to expand.
Last spring, Ben was invited to the tenth annual “Finding a Cure Gala” in Los Angeles where he got to share his story with over 600 guests, including celebrities like Aaron Eckhart. That same month he was asked to do the honorary opening tee shot at the Fore the Kids Golf Classic in Newport Beach. And now you can see Ben on posters all over Marshall’s stores in Southern California advertising a current JDRF paper sneaker fundraiser.
The Walk to Cure Diabetes, that same walk that got Ben started with JDRF eight years ago, is coming up on October 27 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. This year he was asked to be one of two Walk Ambassadors, spokespersons that go around promoting the walk and drumming up participation. Attendance is expected to be around 12,000.
Ben has come a long way from the initial disbelief and fear he experienced when he was first diagnosed. In fact, he thinks having diabetes has had some positive impacts on his life.
“Being diagnosed was a pretty life changing experience,” he said. “But I kind of learned quickly how to deal with it and that helped me mature a lot. Unlike most kids my age, I had to be responsible for something 24/7.”
“Plus I’ve met a lot of cool diabetics through the program,” Ben said. “I met Nick Jonas at my very first JDRF event.”
Ben’s positive spirit and resilience will serve him well, wherever he ends up in life. He has narrowed his college search to about 13 schools, most of which on the East Coast or in the South. He hopes to study either sports management or business.
“I interned at a sports agency in Century City last summer and I loved it,” he said. “I don’t know if I could be interested in anything else as much as that.”