Bringing Diabetes to the Fore

Raffle offers six "dream vacations" with funds raised going to diabetes awareness, the Lions Club, and a local food bank

By Molly Priddy
Dani Weinstein holds her 7-month-old daughter Isabella on March 31, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

For many parents, the day their first child is born is a day of overwhelming love and a new type of anxiety they were not aware of before, that this tiny, squirming baby is theirs to protect and nurture.

For Danni and Alex Weinstein, those massive new feelings were compounded with an enormous sense of relief that their daughter Isabella Marie finally made it to the world seven months ago.

As a person living with Type-1 diabetes, Danni Weinstein’s pregnancy was one of high and lows dictated by how much her body could take. She had to stop working at 28 weeks, and performed weekly checks on her system, including using an automatic glucose monitor to keep track of her sugar levels that could sometimes hide behind hormone shifts.

“We were pretty much told it would be really hard for me to carry a baby,” Weinstein said. “It was the most stressful time in my life. When she was finally born, it was the best day.”

Diabetes is one of the most prevalent diseases affecting Americans, with nearly 26 million people across the country battling it. Of those people, more than 7 million people are unaware they have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, and another 79 million people at high risk for developing the disease.

In an effort to increase awareness in the Flathead Valley, the Lions Club along with the Diabetes Care and Prevention Center at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, are holding a year-long Dream Vacation raffle.

Only 300, $100 tickets will be sold, the trips include a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise; roundtrip airfare, lodging and tickets to either a Seahawks or Broncos NFL game; a three-night roundtrip to New York City; a four-day trip with lodging, passes, and airfare to Disneyland; three nights in Washington DC with a night tour of the monuments; and a seven-night Alaskan cruise.

There will be one drawing each month for a different vacation, starting in May. And even if a winner’s ticket is selected in June, for example, their ticket is put back into the pot for the rest of the drawings, providing the possibility of winning more trips.

Colleen Karper, RN CDE and manager of diabetes education and prevention at KRMC, said her program works with people with Types 1 and 2 diabetes, as well as those with gestational or pre-diabetes.

Her educators help people manage living with the disease and how to take care of themselves properly. The program has been recognized through Medicare since 2001.

The proceeds earned from the raffle will be split three ways, with equal shares going to the Lions Club, a local food bank, and to the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Diabetes Fund, which helps people with diabetes pay for their treatment as well as pays for the organization’s needs, such as bringing in a pediatric specialist for a week or buying equipment not allotted for within the budget.

It’s important to spread awareness, Karper said, because the earlier it is detected, the less unmitigated damage it can do to a body.

Weinstein, now 28, was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at age 6, when her pancreas largely shut down. With this form of the disease, the body doesn’t produce insulin, which is needed to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.

Glucose is important for many organs and muscles but especially for the brain, which lacks fuel storage and needs a continuous supply of the simple sugar since it acts as the brain’s fuel.

Both Weinstein’s father and older brother have Type 1 diabetes, so her mother was alert for the signs she noticed in her 6-year-old daughter: frequent urination, constant thirst, and weight loss.

“My pancreas basically gave out on me,” she said.

But her disease didn’t stop Weinstein from achieving her dreams. She began playing tennis, and started competing at 9. While attending Whitefish High School, then under her maiden name as Danni Paulson, Weinstein went undefeated, 77-0 through all four years.

She met her future husband at tennis camp when she was a freshman in high school, living in California for a year. She transferred back to Whitefish the next year, and Alex moved to Whitefish for his senior year of high school.

They both played Division 1 tennis at the University of Montana, and were married in 2012.

Playing a sport at that level for so long is hard on a body already trying to handle diabetes; Weinstein remembers choking down sugar packets to prep her body for practice, setting off a chain reaction of high blood sugar and then ensuing dips.

Pregnancy wasn’t even on the radar, she said, because they’d been told it wouldn’t work for her. Isabella came about as a surprise.

“The day we found out, we were on another planet,” Weinstein said, “but equally scared.”

Living with diabetes means constantly keeping an eye on her body’s functions, but it can also present challenges in the community when people don’t understand the disease.

Type 1 diabetes is genetic, whereas Type 2 comes about as a result of genetic predisposition, as well as diet and exercise choices. The two are often confused, Weinstein said.

“People with diabetes can look completely fine,” Weinstein said. “[Others] don’t realize the told it takes on your body, day in, day out.”

There’s also the idea that it’s not that serious of a disease because people who have can “just treat it with a shot,” Weinstein said, which is a simplistic and potentially dangerous view, since it could determine how someone might treat a person slipping into a diabetic coma.

Overall, Weinstein said she’s happy with how far she’s pushed her body, and is proud of her achievements. But the more people learn about the disease, it will be easier to spot early on, or even cured.

“It seems like everybody I know knows someone with diabetes,” Weinstein said. “We need a cure, we need to save lives.”

Tickets for the Dream Vacation raffle can be found at www.lionsdreamvacation.org, by calling the Kalispell Lions Club at 406-871-4176, by visiting the Diabetes Care and Prevention Center at 430 Windward Way, or at Montana Brokers Real Estate at 685 Sunset Blvd in Kalispell.