Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM At the age of 41 Mary Ann Stebbins-Burns was faced with a life-altering diagnosis Type I insulin-dependent diabetes. By the time of Stebbins-Burns diagnosis, Mayor Susan Dawson had been living with the disease for over three decades.
Stebbins-Burns and Dawson are two of the 23 million people in the United States who have some form of diabetes an incurable autoimmune disease that prohibits the pancreas from producing the proper amount of insulin.
On Oct. 19, these two women will stand up against the disease with thousands of others at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's (JDRF) Western Massachusetts Walk to Cure Diabetes at Six Flags New England.
"It totally changed my life," Stebbins-Burns said of her diagnosis. "I have to check my sugar several times a day and give myself insulin every time I eat. I'm on an insulin pump all of the time. You constantly have to think about what you are putting in your mouth. It affects every aspect of your life."
Ironically, she was involved with JDRF as a walk volunteer years prior to being diagnosed.
"Before I was diagnosed, it was important for me to be a part of an organization that's doing something positive," Stebbins-Burns explained. "After I was diagnosed it [the walk] helped me feel I'm actually doing something to fight the disease."
She added that she also walks for her son, who has a 10 percent chance of being diagnosed with diabetes.
In an interview with Reminder Publications, Dawson said she has never known a life without Type I Diabetes. She was diagnosed at age four, at a time when checking one's sugar meant urinating on a strip.
"My parents taught me that it is my job to take control of [the disease]," she said.
Despite her ability to manage her condition for over a decade, Dawson explained that she developed diabetic retinopathy when the blood vessels of the retina swell, leak fluid or grow on the surface of the retina while in college, causing her to go blind for nine months. According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness for adults in the United States.
She explained that thousands of laser eye treatments and a vitrectomy procedure a surgery that removes blood from the eyeball allowed her to regain her sight. Dawson added that she is still without depth perception and cannot distinguish between certain colors such as yellow or cream, however.
In light of Dawson's perseverance over complications from Type I Diabetes, she was chosen as co-chair of the JDRF Western Massachusetts Walk to Cure Diabetes. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is serving as her counterpart.
"Mayor Dawson is a wonderful role model for others," Mary Ann Slomski, executive director of the JDRF's North Central Connecticut and Western Massachusetts Chapter, said. "She's overcome a lot of obstacles and become a wonderful community leader and spokeswoman for JDRF."
Dawson said she was honored to be chosen as co-chair of the walk and hopes that her fundraising efforts and the efforts of walkers next month will help to find a cure.
"After the walk I think we should all ride 'Superman' [roller coaster] because we are all a bunch of super men and women to actively do something to find a cure is the best way to overcome this obstacle," Dawson said.
Six Flags New England is offering free park admission on Oct. 19 for all those who raise $50 or more for JDRF. Walk registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and the two-mile walk through the park begins at 10 a.m.
For more information or to register for the walk go to www.walk.jdrf.org.