Lakeside resident Bianca Villalobos has a very busy schedule, especially since she is only 12 years old. In all of her activities, Bianca’s main goal is to increase awareness of her two chronic health conditions: type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.
The sixth-grader spends each day being home-schooled by her mother, before busy evenings filled with extra-curricular activities. She prepares for upcoming competitions and dances at least five days a week, taking ballet and jazz lessons and rehearsing with two groups of performers.
She also devotes time to volunteering with her church and at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, where she removes the flag and serves meals to veterans, and frequently donates to causes she supports, whether in bringing books to small free libraries or doses of insulin to the nonprofit Insulin for Life.
“I really don’t like taking breaks. I just like to keep going,” Bianca said.
As if she wasn’t busy enough already, Bianca is also striving to raise $5,000 to support type 1 diabetes research and advocacy this year by leading a team of walkers for the fundraising event. JDRF One Walk on Nov. 12 at Balboa Park. As of May 13, his team had raised $125 through his fundraising campaign.
Bianca is one of 200,000 Americans under age 20 living with the disease, reports JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a global nonprofit supporting type 1 diabetes research. The disease can appear at any age.
Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas no longer makes insulin, a hormone that helps blood sugar enter cells, where it is used by the body for energy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . When there is not enough insulin, a person has high blood sugar, which damages the body over time and can be fatal.
The disease is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction, and a person is more likely to develop the disease if they have inherited certain genes from their parent.
Often, having a viral illness triggers the first symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children, said Dr. Ahmad Bailony, director of pediatrics at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
“It’s not what’s causing it, but it’s what is causing your blood sugar to spike, and this is the first time we know anything is going on,” he said.
At first, children may have flu-like symptoms from the virus, but as the virus resolves, other symptoms persist. The child may be more thirsty than usual, drink lots of water and urinate more frequently.
While doing a Pop Warner physical exam for a 7-year-old child, Bailony said the child’s mother told him that her son had recently started wetting the bed again. This led him to check the boy’s blood sugar level, which was very high.
“Luckily it was caught in time before he got too sick, but it’s usually symptoms like needing to drink more, going to the bathroom or just looking sick, feeling sick. feeling tired or feeling like something is wrong,” he said.
When Bianca was 2 years old, her mother, Tina Villalobos, knew something was wrong when her behavior suddenly changed. At the time, Bianca was always thirsty, but also urinated so much and so often that no matter how often Tina changed her diapers, they were constantly oversaturated.
Doctors diagnosed Bianca with viruses, a bacterial infection, and a yeast infection, but none of the treatments seemed to fix a bigger underlying problem.
Then, on the night of March 12, 2010, Villalobos brought her daughter to the emergency room in La Mesa, where Bianca’s blood was tested and she was eventually diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“I would like us to know who the doctor was because we are so grateful that she is here every day because they have been careful, they have checked her blood, they have done the necessary tests to ensure that ‘She was fine and getting a real diagnosis,’ Villalobos said.
Two years ago, after having a stomach ache, Bianca was also diagnosed with celiac disease, another autoimmune condition that causes an adverse reaction to gluten.
Dealing with Bianca’s two chronic health conditions and busy after-school schedule has required a lot of support from her family, especially her mother, who homeschools Bianca and her 14-year-old brother, Anthony. But Villalobos is happy to support her daughter in her mission to raise awareness about her health issues while giving back to the community.
“She’s the person who would give you her last snack even though she should probably save it for her low blood sugar, just in case, and think of others before thinking of herself,” Villalobos said. .
Previously, Bianca had to test her blood several times a day and needed a lot of insulin injections, but nowadays technology is able to help a little. She uses two wearable devices: a Dexcom G6 continuous glucose meter (CGM) to track her blood sugar using a phone app, and a Tandem t:slim insulin pump, which automatically adjusts insulin doses.
“It helps me have freedom,” she said of the devices.
On a mission to raise awareness through competitions
Bianca strives to increase public awareness and understanding of type 1 diabetes through her volunteer work and by participating in contests.
At the age of 5, Bianca was inspired to start entering pageants after meeting Sierra Sandison, who made headlines by competing as Miss Idaho in the Miss America pageant in 2014 and openly wore her insulin pump on stage.
Bianca still has the dress from her very first pageant – a dark pink and silver cocktail dress – and she remembers being very nervous during that pageant.
“Being on stage in front of people wasn’t really my thing, but I got to know a lot of good people, so I kept trying them and that was a really good thing,” Bianca said.
Since then, Bianca has won many titles and accolades over the years. She holds the title of Miss California Pre-Teen 2022 for National Extraordinary Miss. She also holds the Jr. Teen International for Teen Achievement/Woman of Achievement crown, which she will pass on to her successor in August in Anaheim.
This summer, Bianca is representing her title of Junior Miss Sunshine State, competing at the Regency International pageant in Las Vegas. She represents Florida in honor of her “DiaBuddy” Billy Bowser, who died last year at age 44 of complications from type 1 diabetes, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Bowser was a dance instructor and pageant competitor from Central Florida, and as DiaBuddy he helped answer Bianca’s questions about living with the disease, while bonding around a mutual appreciation of dance and diabetes awareness.
“A DiaBuddy is someone who is there for you,” Bianca said. “He helped me a lot because when I was having a bad day, I had someone to talk to who understood what I was going through.”
Having other people to learn from and share experiences with is an important resource for people diagnosed with the disease. Because Bianca’s father is in the United States Navy, the Villalobos family received a lot of support through military resources.
JDRF answers questions through its online portal and also connects people living with type 1 diabetes with outreach volunteers who can provide one-on-one support.
The non-profit organization also hosts an online forum for members to share everything with each other, from information about scholarship opportunities and insulin pump use, to recommendations for a good endocrinologist and heart disease management. anxiety.
The American Diabetes Association offers virtual “Ask the Experts” events each month, where people with diabetes can learn about various aspects of living with the disease.
Through Diversity in Diabetes, an organization created to improve diversity in diabetes care, people can participate in a free monthly support group. The nonprofit also offers a free 12-week virtual education program on diabetes management for people living with the disease. This includes the more common type 2 diabetes, which in its early stages can be controlled with diet and exercise.
“For any child with a chronic illness, the most important thing is to have the right resources in place so the child can thrive,” Bailony said. “It’s really something that requires the work of multiple people – family, seeing the right specialist and having the right support systems to be successful.”