Such is the case for Dad and me, as we watched in awe as our son, Frankie, had a dream come true, watching a Laker’s Game at the Staples Center in California, 7th row seats. All courtesy of The Dream Factory of Syracuse, NY. The Dream Factory grants dreams to critically and chronically ill children from the ages of three through eighteen.
So what’s his illness? That was the question of the day, because Frankie looks healthy, looks like any ‘typical’ 12 year old kid, standing there in his Laker jersey with that huge smile on his face, but Frankie is anything but ‘typical.’ Frankie lives with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that destroys insulin production in the beta cells of the pancreas. Without insulin, you die. Diagnosed at age 6, Frankie has been his own pancreas for years.
What does that mean? It means that all day, every day, Frankie has to check his blood, inject/infuse man made insulin, consider every activity, consider every emotion coursing through his body, stay on a schedule of eating, sleeping, playing, trying to avoid sickness-even a common cold- which can wreak havoc in his 12 year old frame, and all day, every day-living with the knowledge that insulin works to keep him alive, but it can also kill him if dosed incorrectly.
It also means, at such a young age, he faces a lot of critics. The word DIABETES conjures up a lot of misconceptions in this world—‘Were you fat?’ ‘Did you get it because you drink too much soda?’ ‘Did you get it because you eat a lot of candy?’
All this plus the misconception of CAN’T. ‘You can’t check your blood in school.’ ‘You can’t eat that!’ ‘You can’t do THAT in the classroom’ ‘You can’t go on field trips’ ‘You can’t join the afterschool club.’
Diabetes in this world is unfortunately a disease of blame, because it is so widely misunderstood, and so closely associated with food-because with this disease food BECOMES medicine. (Contrary to popular belief-food is NOT the cause.) It is a disease of exclusion because it can turn life threatening on a dime and scary for many to have a kid with diabetes around until they are educated on the all and everything it takes to keep a child with diabetes safe. To jump over those blame hurdles, to jump over the exclusion- a daunting task, even for most adults. To be a kid age 6-12 negotiating this terrain, you have to be made of some pretty strong stuff.
On a beautiful evening in California-Frankie didn’t get to forget the alls and the have toos—still checking his blood, injecting his insulin, and considering all the variables of trying to control this disease, BUT he got to do it all in the Staples Center while taking in the love from the Laker’s organization. Frankie’s dream was to see a game in the arena in LA, but never in a million years did he expect to meet the team “I’m in the same building within a mile of these guys!” Frankie said when we arrived. The Dream Factory and the Laker’s had other ideas, and meet the team he did!
The Laker’s organization treated Frankie like a VIP. Valet parking, dinner in the VIP room, a tour of the arena including the Laker’s locker room, unbelievable awesome game seats…and meeting the players—oh man, oh man, meeting the players!
Pre game-Frankie got to sit court side during the warm-ups. Out comes #1 D’Angelo Russell, I thought Frankie was going to pass out. #1 is his FAVORITE and Frankie is wearing a Russell jersey. A picture is worth 1,000 words—take a look at this as he meets Mr. Russell and gets his jersey signed. Then out comes Julius Randle, #30, and Frankie is speechless. Jason McDevitt, Community Relations Director for the Lakers is with us.
Mr. McDeVitt tells Frankie Mr. Randle supports diabetes awareness, and minutes later Frankie gets to meet him in person. Mr. Randle is told by Mr. McDevitt that Frankie is a youth ambassador for the American Diabetes Association and Frankie gives #30 a diabetes awareness wrist band. Amazing Mr. Randle tells Frankie he will wear it in the game! When Julius Randle hit the court wearing the wristband Frankie’s smile was ear to ear!Next up we meet Kiesha Nix, Executive Director of the Laker’s Youth Foundation, who takes us to dinner in the VIP room where we spot Jack Black, but opt not to say Hello out of respect, but we stare at him, in awe of being in the same party room he is! We are VIP’s tonight! After dinner Ms. Nix takes us to our awesome seats & stays with us awhile, talking about what she does, our family, her family, and it feels like we have known her forever! She lets us know we can go to the VIP room anytime and after a bit, has to leave us to fulfill her duties during the game. She rejoins us at halftime, again in the VIP room, and tells us to enjoy the rest of the game & we try to put into words our thanks— there are no words to encompass our gratitude-but we try.The game is a nail biter! Laker’s are up, Lakers are down—Frankie’s blood check reveals a glucose level of 412 (extremely high) due to his excitement level, so he doses insulin, Mom worries, and Dad tries to get Mom to relax about it!
Last 30 seconds, score is tied, Frankie is standing up, jumping all around, Laker’s have the ball and Ms. Nix comes back to us & says “Follow me.” Frankie looks at her like she is crazy, only 30 seconds left! She says “Trust me.” Off we go and Frankie is brought courtside to see the end of the game, the rest of us are brought into the hallway the team comes through after the game. I’m thinking the surprise is Frankie is courtside for the end of the game until Ms. Nix leans over and says “Frankie’s going to meet Kobe.” My intelligent reply-“SHUT UP!” and I begin balling my eyes out.
Laker’s win and we are ushered into an area in back. Looking like a million bucks in a suit and tie, briefcase in hand, emerges Mr. Kobe Bryant, #24.
They stood there, side by side, Frankie and Mr. Bryant, huge smiles on their faces. I was stunned, but coherent enough to snap as many pictures as I could to commemorate this moment, blabber words of thanks through tears, watching a young boy meeting one of his hero’s.My mom brain is working overtime, and all I can think at this moment is how thankful I am that this man, who every minute of every day- somebody wants a piece of him, took time to give to my son. Then I start to think, how very alike these two lives are…for every minute of every day- type 1 diabetes wants a piece of Frankie.
In his letter to basketball, Mr. Bryant wrote about being 6 and playing basketball with rolled up socks. At age six, Frankie was playing basketball with rolled up socks too, and it is also the age when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. For both, age 6, set them on a trajectory in life that neither, at such a young age, could have comprehended.
I am sure that Frankie grew up faster than the average boy, that’s what type 1 does, makes you grow up-fast and furious. I imagine the same is true for Mr. Bryant, when his basketball skills were seen at such a young age. You mature faster when you have obligations-when someone or something expects things from you-there is no choice.
I imagine-every minute of every day for Mr. Bryant is scheduling-practice, games, trainers, obligations-interviews, appearances, autographs, requests-for meetings, photos, and critics—about his skills, his playing, his life. I know-every minute of every day for Frankie is scheduling-blood tests, medications, when to eat, when to sleep, obligations-checking glucose levels, taking insulin, doctors appointments, requests-take your number, eat this, drink this, sit this out, and critics-about his disease management, his choices, his life.
Side by side, a man and one becoming a man, on a beautiful night at the Staples Center-this Mom could still see those two six year old boys, both carrying weight on their shoulder-still with a sparkle in their eyes, and huge smiles on their faces-who had a few minutes to bond over their love of basketball.
This Mom was looking at two heroes.
Thank you Dream Factory of Syracuse and the LA Laker’s Organization.
When dreams come true, and you are lucky enough to witness the moments, you are lucky enough.