Should the American Diabetes Association ever need a spokeswoman, Roncalli senior Gwen Woehler is available, and she’s experienced.
Diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic when she was 5, Woehler made her first pitch to the Ford Motor Co. several months later.
“I love sharing my story with corporate sponsors and people so they will give money for diabetes research,” said Woehler, whose grandmother noticed the warning signs – excessive thirst and use of bathroom, weight loss and weariness.
A visit to Riley Hospital for Children confirmed that suspicion.
“I remember sitting on my dad’s lap and crying when I got my first shot,” she recalled. “They told me that it wouldn’t hurt, but telling a 5-year-old old that a shot won’t hurt is crazy.”
Woehler was one of three students from Indiana selected to attend the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Children’s Congress in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2013. She and her peers met with Sens. Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly and Rep. Andre Carson and lobbied them to continue their support for the Special Diabetes Program.
Research is ongoing, and there is hope that an artificial pancreas will one day help to cure the disease.
“I loved being in Washington; I love big cities,” said Woehler, who has done her share of raising funds for the foundation. Gwen’s Group has raised more than $120,000 for the foundation during the past 13 years. She and her family and friends hold fundraisers throughout the year and participate in the organization’s annual Walk to Cure Diabetes.
Woehler says living with diabetes is difficult. “As I have gotten older – yes – it’s a hassle. I don’t like to be the one to have to sit down and check my blood sugar levels (which she does six to eight time a day; she takes a shot whenever she eats). But I have made a promise to myself to not let diabetes get in my way of accomplishing my goals.”
The frustrating part for Woehler, who has created some unique and tasty sugar-free drinks, is that she can eat the exact food on two different days, yet her sugar levels are totally different. Doctors say stress, fatigue and an illness can play a role in altering the levels.
“It’s something that she has to battle every minute of every day,” said her mom, Aimee Woehler. “She is mature and wise beyond her years. She has handled every day of living with this disease with more courage and grace and than I ever could have.”
And the same goes for dad Terry and sister Grace, an eighth-grader at St. Barnabas.
Failure to monitor the disease can result in long-term complications like kidney and heart failure, blindness and amputation.
“I don’t have a choice,” said Gwen. “Just missing insulin for one day could jeopardize my life. I have come to terms with my disease.
“Many people misunderstand the disease. They think I can’t eat this or that, but I can in moderation.”
Woehler’s sugar level can wreak havoc on her thought process, so she prepares differently for tests. She closely monitored her levels the night before the SAT. “Before big exams I tell my body, ‘You have to keep in check.’ ”
If anything positive has emanated from her bout with the disease, it has been the opportunity to attend Camp John Warvel in North Webster, Ind., where she was a two-time honor camper. She served as a volunteer dietitian in 2015 and was asked to return this year, but the camp’s schedule clashes with Roncalli’s Summer Field Studies in the Grand Canyon, which Woehler has opted to attend.
“Camp is my favorite place in the world, and it was a difficult decision,” said a teary-eyed Woehler, “but I’m so excited to go to the Grand Canyon.”
A member of Roncalli’s Class 4A No. 7 basketball team, Woehler is optimistic that the Rebels (16-3) can win the state championship. “If we are prepared and play well, I am confident that we have a good chance. Coach Benge is a good coach, but he says it’s not what he does; it’s what the team does.”
During the Farm Bureau Hoosier Invitational at Bankers Life Fieldhouse over the Christmas break, Woehler was named one of the tournament’s All-Academic players. The National Honor Society member boasts a 4.2 GPA and plans to study nursing at the University of Evansville or Valparaiso.
“I am very blessed with an amazing family and friends that support me and enable me to accomplish my goals.”
“I have made a promise to myself to not let diabetes get in my way of accomplishing my goals.”
– Gwen Woehler