The story was written by Hillary Smith (University of Kentucky Public Relations) and originally appeared on UKNow.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan 19, 2021) – “The truth is, every parent is worried about their child for different reasons. This is just ours.”
That worry began for Tammy and Jeff Marsh in 2017. Their youngest son Dillon – a junior high school junior – began to complain that he was tired and losing weight. Symptoms then got worse during his baseball season when the University of Kentucky recruit lost 26 pounds. “His strength on Pitcher’s Hill had also decreased and he was easily tired. In hindsight, we should have seen problems earlier, sometimes you just don’t see what’s ahead of you,” said Mrs. Marsh.
In the midst of the Pennsylvania State Championship playoffs, Dillon and his parents set up an appointment with their longtime GP. After a few blood tests, the doctor came back with the results. “The second he walked through the door, Dillon and I looked at each other when we knew something was wrong with his expression. It was terrifying.”
It was what that doctor did next that began the Marsh family’s journey to Dillon’s diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. “He showed us an article about Bobby Clarke.”
Clarke is a well-known professional hockey player who also suffers from type 1 diabetes. “Our doctor was very familiar with Dillon’s athletic goals, so he wanted to introduce the disease positively and tell Dillon that there is nothing he still cannot do after he gets the disease under control,” said Mrs. Marsh.
The swamps remember watching in awe as their son processed everything that was thrown at him … and handled everything with grace and optimism. A few days later, Dillon was hospitalized and spent four days undergoing an intensive inpatient program for newly diagnosed patients. “While we were in the hospital, we watched him comfort younger children and tell them they would be fine. I thought, really, kid, where do you find that strength when you were just being diagnosed yourself?” He just knew that this disease would not define him or thwart his goals. “
When Tammy and Jeff walked home from the hospital with Dillon, they found they only had a year left with their son before sending him nine hours away from college with this new challenge.
The Marsh family celebrated many things that year. Dillon signed his letter of intent to play baseball in the UK. He received multiple scholarships, it was his senior high school season and high school graduation. Between all these “bars”, however, they embarked on a journey around his “new” diagnosis.
This year was also filled with what Mrs. Marsh calls a soul search of her own to get her son to move away from home and be responsible for treating his diabetes. “The thought that he was nine hours away just a year after being diagnosed was a bit daunting.”
She began exploring the Lexington area and came across UK HealthCare’s Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center (BBDC). “I couldn’t have been more excited to find out that the Barnstable Brown Center exists and is a world-class diabetes center. This type of program isn’t the norm, it’s the exception – and it was in Dillon’s new backyard.”
Dr. BBDC’s Kristen Stakelin helped out when Dillon made the transition from home and his parents and into life as a Division 1 student athlete. “Dillon was a pleasure to know. He came to us with such a good attitude. He’s disciplined and takes very good care of himself. Instead of being distracted by his diagnosis, he was able to keep up with his classes and his scholarship for that British baseball team retained. “
Stakelin says that thanks in large part to the vision and generosity of the Barnstable Brown family, BBDC can provide full life-cycle diabetes care and education. “A center like BBDC is especially important for someone like Dillon who moved away from their family and doctor shortly after the diagnosis. There needs to be a care team in place, everything from good glucose control to ‘who to call when I call?” Do you need anything? ‘,’ Where can I have prescriptions filled out? ‘or’ What if I have a problem after work? ‘
Unfortunately, transitioning from high school to college can be one of those stressful life events that appear to expose or trigger type 1 diabetes in susceptible individuals. It’s not uncommon for us to see a few newly diagnosed college students each year. Obviously, for a young adult who is already having to adjust so much during this period, this can be a source of anxiety not only for the student but also for the family left at home, as if they might not be able to help. This feeling of being out of control of the situation can help BBDC navigate. We can be a much-needed team and resource. “
Now, about three years into this chapter of his life, Dillon is thriving both academically and athletically. Ms. Marsh says the University of Kentucky should thank Dillon’s coaches and coaches, BBDC, and many others for his accomplishments. “Everyone who has had his best interests here in Kentucky has enabled me to become more confident.”
Just as the doctor said at his initial diagnosis that this was possible, Dillon still has big dreams for the future. He is working to get drafted into playing Major League Baseball where he hopes to reach larger audiences to get his positive message across. In addition to his classroom and field performances, Dillon has also been named a global ambassador for Team Type One.
Since Dillon uses his story to help others, his mother is now doing the same too. Tammy Marsh says that she is inspired by her own son as he deals with an immense amount of courage and determination every day. She now hopes to be able to help other parents who are on the same path. Mrs. Marsh says she is glad she took the time to be angry, sad, and scared in the beginning. She says all of this soon turned to hope – hope for her son’s future. “All things were possible for him. He just had to do things a little differently from others.”
Both Tammy and Jeff Marsh recently retired from law enforcement and moved from their 21-year-old home – Lancaster, Pennsylvania – to Lexington to make it easier to attend Dillon’s baseball games. She hopes to provide support and encouragement to other families who have recently been diagnosed with a child with type 1 diabetes. “No child or family is like the other. No one will go through this journey identically. There is no playbook. Don’t beat yourself up for being angry or sad. Give yourself time to process everything and then accept it … because you can’t change it. “She says while her family’s journey will not be exactly the same as anyone else’s, she hopes that their experiences and shared challenges can help them along.
Stakelin says she strongly encourages parents of newly diagnosed patients to reach out and speak to someone like Dillon’s mother: “Find a support group of people with similar circumstances. Just to know that you are not alone in it and someone to have who has this. ” to have been there “achieving is comforting.”
Ms. Marsh says the biggest piece of advice she can give to other parents is simply, “Be your child’s greatest supporter.” She says that depending on the child’s age, it is important that they have a sense of ownership of the disease and the knowledge to deal with it. “I wanted to protect him and do anything. I realized that he wouldn’t benefit from it in the future. Instead, we were all his greatest cheerleaders.” This included Dillon’s older brother Colin, who was constantly reading studies, following educational blogs, and gathering information. “We’ve all just got on board.”
That strong family effort, coupled with the support system he had found in Lexington, enabled Dillon to achieve his goals by that point … and then dream even bigger dreams.
“We are so incredibly blessed and proud to be where we are today. Remember, this disease is manageable. Type 1 diabetes does not define who your child is or what they will achieve. All their dreams are possible, as I am first saw. Hand with Dillon. “