Without children's wish-granting organization The Dream Factory, Blair resident Jen Alzuri said their family couldn't have gone on its Sept. 7 to 13 trip to Disney World.
"Insulin is $300 for a little vial that lasts 28 days, and he's on two different kinds of insulin," she said. "They didn't used to be that, they skyrocketed. That's $600 a month, that's just for the vials. That doesn't count alcohol swabs, cottons balls, the needles that you need. All that starts to add up."
Earlier this year, Alzuri's 11-year-old son, AJ,was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic disease where the pancreas isn't making insulin or is producing very little. Insulin helps the body keep blood sugar levels from getting too high.
"On April 29, AJ was up vomiting all night," Alzuri said. "AJ started acting very strange, not coherent."
He was eventually taken to Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. Doctors determined AJ was in diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition forpeople with diabetes. It occurs when the body starts breaking down fat in place of insulin. The liver processes the fat into ketones, which causes acids to build up in the bloodstream.
"When we first found out, we were in shock because we didn't know anything about diabetes," Alzuri said. "My first thoughts, 'I gave him too much sugar, he didn't eat enough vegetables, or he didn't exercise enough.'"
But doctors reassured Alzuri's those thoughts aren't considered the causes of Type 1 diabetes,. According to the Center for Disease Control, Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults and is caused when the body starts destroying cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Genetics or being exposed to a virus could lead to the autoimmune reaction.
"Now my goal is to educate people," Alzuri said. "My son can eat anything your son or daughter can, he just needs to count the carbs and dose insulin correctly before he eats...he's had to grow up quick."
But AJ hasn't grown up too much to enjoy Disney World.
While he, his mom and his dad, Troy, now have extra responsibilities, they found "magic," Alzuri said, when AJ's wish to travel to the vacation destination was granted by The Dream Factory. The volunteer organization, which has chapters throughout the U.S., grants wishes to children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.
"I was told about the Dream Factory from my high school friend Deb Walker, who I haven’t seen in 25-plus years," Alzuri said. "Her daughter has Type 1 Diabetes, and when I posted information on Facebook about AJ being diagnosed in April, she reached out."
Alzuri said she downloaded the application paperwork at the end of May, filled it out with the family's doctor and asked AJ where he'd like to go.
"He picked Disney World," Alzuri said. "I told AJ, 'Go take this and mail it. This is going to be your lucky day.'"
His lucky day came a few weeks later when representatives reached out to Alzuri to meet.
"There were three ladies, they asked AJ questions about himself," Alzuri said. "He is in seventh grade, loves basketball, was just diagnosed and still getting use to his 'new life.' They looked at him and said they’ve voted as a committee and are granting AJ’s wish. We all were in shock. Tears or joy and we all were so grateful."
Alzuri said The Dream Factory provided everything from a ride to the airport to a car pick-up with their last name displayed on a tablet. AJ even got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot before the flight to Florida.
"I emailed Southwest and said, 'This is my son's first flight, if there's anything you can do to make it special," Alzuri said. "AJ was just smiling all week long."
She said AJ's favorite ride was the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, but he also enjoyed SeaWorld's Discovery Cove where he got to swim with dolphins.
"Swimming with the dolphins has always been on his list," Alzuri said. "He thought it was the best thing he'd ever seen."
Without her old friend letting her know about The Dream Factory and the goodwill of the organization itself, Alzuri said the family wouldn't have made life-long memories.
"He picked Disney World because he heard it is magical," she said. "He said, 'It was mom.'"