Two weeks on a ranch just south of Wyoming’s majestic Jackson Hole sounded like the perfect summer vacation to 8-year-old Adair Gregory of Winchester, Mass. But on the morning in 1994 when his family packed to leave, Adair woke up feeling nauseous and terribly thirsty. “I thought maybe I had the flu,” he says today. By the time the family arrived at the ranch, he had vomited several times and was woozy with dehydration from having urinated frequently. Three days later, after he had shed at least six pounds, his parents rushed him to the nearest hospital. There, doctors confirmed what Adair’s father, Chris, 52, a political consultant and onetime Air Force medic, had come to suspect—and fear. When doctors explained their diagnosis to Adair, he would later write, “it sounded like this: DIE-a-bee-tees. So I thought I was going to die.”
Adair, 12, would learn that diabetes was not an automatic death sentence and that, with proper treatment, he could lead a nearly normal and very active life. Still, he could no longer go trick-or-treating on Halloween or gobble up sugary desserts. Worse, he had to prick his finger at least three times a day to test his blood sugar and submit to a rigid schedule of meals, snacks and insulin injections. “All of a sudden he was moody and sad,” says his mother, Kyle Carney Gregory, 47, a social worker. Adair concedes, “I just sat around and felt bad for myself.”
In time, Adair triumphed over his depression and resumed the sports he had always loved. But that early period of uncertainty haunted him—in part, he says, because he didn’t understand what was happening. Not wanting other kids to suffer the same fate, Adair has shared his experiences in Sugar Was My Best Food: Diabetes and Me, a book written with the help of his mother and his godmother, Carol Peacock, a psychologist, and published by Albert Whitman & Co. this past spring. Kyle came up with the idea when she saw Adair’s frustration over the books for diabetic children. “When I read them, I was like, ‘A kid wouldn’t do this,’ ” says Adair. “They were talking about all this technical stuff. I thought I could write a book that could help people more.”
Experts feel he has succeeded. “If you are a child [who develops diabetes], you would feel rather isolated and confused,” says Robert Goldstein, vice president of research for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in New York City, which raises funds in search of a cure. “What he has done is put those feelings on paper. Now someone can read it and realize, ‘I’m not the only person with this.’ ” In fact, roughly 1 million people (about 123,000 of them under age 20) are believed to have Adair’s Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes, a potentially fatal disease caused when the pancreas mysteriously malfunctions.
Among the many messages Adair conveys is that families must never become complacent about the disease. “If a meal is delayed, his blood sugar can go way up or way down,” says Kyle. During a sleepover at a friend’s house, Adair’s blood sugar dropped so low that he had a seizure and ended up in an emergency room. And one unexpected complication of his illness is that while his brothers Stephen, 14, Connor, 7, and Quinn, 3, are very supportive of Adair, they have grown jealous of the attention he receives. “It’s hard to maintain balance when you’re trying to deal with this,” says Chris. “Adair’s schedule dominates our family life.”
But the schedule is one Adair lives by, literally. One recent morning he sped through his routine effortlessly, pricking his finger, measuring his blood sugar and getting his injection from his father. Then he quickly made for the door. It would be a typical day for any child: a walk with the family’s Kerry blue terrier Slugger, lacrosse at 1 p.m., an hour or so of skateboarding, baseball at 6. “I don’t really think about it,” says Adair. “It’s kind of like breathing.”
Sophfronia Scott Gregory
Tom Duffy in Winchester