Pictured here is Zachary Gonzalez-Murillo. | Supplied Photo
Updated: December 7, 2011 8:10AM
Reina Murillo said the first time she grocery shopped after her 6-year-old son’s diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, she cried.
“I cried because I knew our lives would change forever,” Murillo said.
The concern she had for her son, Zachary Gonzalez-Murillo, and for her family was simply overwhelming. However, in the months that followed his diagnosis, she put away her tears and replaced her anxiety with resolve, purpose, hope and a determination that many mothers will understand.
Putting that newfound attitude to work, she and her family decided to raise funds on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and they formed the “Zack Attacks” team that recently walked in JDRF’s 33rd annual Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes. Not only did the family walk in the event, they also staged a fundraiser previous to the walkathon, and the two efforts together raised $2,570.
It was April 13 of this year that Murillo learned her son, a first-grader at Mt. Greenwood School in Chicago, had Type 1 diabetes, a condition where a body does not produce the insulin needed to make energy.
Zachary was diagnosed while in the emergency room at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. He was getting treatment for what was assumed to be dehydration as a result of the flu he was fighting. Blood tests, however, revealed a sugar level that was more than 1,000 points — a figure that caused nurses to test him three times to be sure there wasn’t an error.
While many factors can cause fluctuating sugar levels, a reading of 1,000 is considered very high, and even dangerous. Zachary spent four days in the ICU while the hospital worked to adjust his levels. While there, the Mt. Greenwood community supported Zachary and his family with cards and gifts, but “best of all,” according to his mom, were the visits Zachary received from his parish priest, his principal, and many others.
From that point on, though, Zachary’s life — as well as his family’s lives — changed. A task as routine as grocery shopping became suddenly complicated.
“A quick 15-minute shopping trip is not so quick anymore,” Murillo said. “It wasn’t easy. It was very hard, and you take things for granted. I was used to filling the cart up, but that is no more.”
“He has had to grow up faster,” Murillo said, because Zachary must be careful of what he eats when he is away from his mother’s watchful eye.
Murillo said JDRF was instrumental in giving her information and support when Zachary was first diagnosed. The organization, in fact, has a variety of resources for families impacted by diabetes. There are trained mentors, online support teams with trained volunteers and in-person networking get-togethers. According to the organization, about 3 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes.
“My cousin referred me to JDRF, and it was the best thing she could have ever done,” Murillo said. “I told her I wanted to be alone, and she left me alone. I used the website and talked to JDRF on a Wednesday and the next day I received a package to help.”
The package Murillo received is a “Bag of Hope,” which includes items such as a stuffed toy that has diabetes, an informational DVD, a book to keep track of calories and carbohydrates, and a case for carrying a blood glucose meter and test strip.
Murillo said her family grew closer because of this health challenge, and they made it their combined goal to focus on Zachary’s health and safety.
Murillo said her husband Pedro Gonzalez “stepped up to the plate” by reading “every possible book” on Type 1 diabetes, and is very much in tune with Zachary’s needs. In addition, Zachary’s sister Alexis Murillo also helped, creating YouTube videos about her brother promoting the walkathon efforts.
Alexis explained her devotion to her brother, and her reason for making the videos.
“Because Zachary means everything to me, and is the best brother anyone can ask for, and I love him with all of my heart, making these videos made me feel like I was giving him hope. Every kid needs hope. I wanted my videos to let people know about Type 1 diabetes and also let people know what my brother went through.
“My brother and I share one common wish now — that wish is for a cure, and we will walk with our family and friends each year in support of that,” Alexis wrote in a text message.
Murillo confirmed the family’s plan to continue participating in the JDRF walkathon, and this commitment has not gone unnoticed by the organization, according to Patrick Reedy, the executive director of JDRF Illinois.
“Families like Zachary’s help make the Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes a success year after year. Zachary and his sister went door-to-door, asking friends and family for their support, helping them to meet their family’s fundraising goal. Every dollar gets us closer to JDRF’s ultimate goal — to find a cure for the millions of people living with type 1 diabetes,” Reedy wrote in an email.
“We want to increase our team’s total donation each year and spread the word to all,” Murillo said. “This is a life-changing event, but it doesn’t change that we love our Zackers.”
JDRF is having a fundraising event on Dec. 10 at McCormick Place. Entertainment for the evening will be provided by The Doobie Brothers. For more information, visit: www.jdrfillinois.org/gala
To see Zachary’s YouTube videos, visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oj4rViHIePY or www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps9DaD66Vek.
Patti Ahern is a citizen journalist from the Beverly community. She can be contacted at PattiRMA@aol.com.