A Maple Valley family's journey to the center of the cure for diabetes

Tahoma High sophomore Elizabeth Zosel takes a break during the 80 mile bike ride through Death Valley as a part of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Ride for a Cure fundraiser.  - Courtesy photo.
Tahoma High sophomore Elizabeth Zosel takes a break during the 80 mile bike ride through Death Valley as a part of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Ride for a Cure fundraiser.
— image credit: Courtesy photo.

In the past three years, the Zosel family has helped raise a total of $88,000 in the hopes of finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Maple Valley resident Renea Zosel and her 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, participated in an 80 mile bike ride through Death Valley the weekend of Oct. 20 as a part of the Ride for the Cure fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a Type 1 diabetes research center.

For the Zosels, Type 1 diabetes has been a part of their lives ever since Elizabeth, a sophomore at Tahoma High, was diagnosed with the disease at 2. As an infant, Renea and her husband, Andy, noticed she suffered from extreme thirst. A trip to the hospital confirmed the diagnosis when they discovered she had a blood sugar level of nearly 700, when the normal level is between 70-120.

“Our world was turned upside down,” Renea Zosel said, who was pregnant with their second child at the time.

While Elizabeth spent three days in the hospital for treatment to bring her blood sugar down from that dangerously high number, her parents educated themselves about the auto-immune disease. Most important was maintaining her blood sugar by monitoring what she ate.

“Food is our culture,” Renea Zosel said. “Everything revolves around food.”

At first they had to inject Elizabeth with shots on a precise schedule. Eventually Elizabeth received an insulin pump, which Renea Zosel said allowed them to have a more normal lifestyle.

The Zosels first got involved with JDRF through the foundation’s walk for a cure fundraiser before they started on the bike rides three years ago. For the ride through Death Valley, Elizabeth had to plan out her food intake, as she had to have 60 grams of carbs an hour to maintain her blood sugar. She accomplished this through a combination of gatorade and protein bars, as well as eating right before the race.

To the Zosels, they hope diabetes research will lead to new technology, such as an artificial pancreas, something currently in the test trial phase. Such a device would remove the various issues they have to deal with daily. In addition to Elizabeth, their son, Jonathan, 10, was diagnosed four years ago. Elizabeth said growing up with diabetes for the family to adjust when Jonathan was diagnosed.

“It’s good because we know how each other feels,” Elizabeth said. “It’s a lifestyle we all know, so when I’m low (blood sugar) they all have candy to give to me.”

Technology had changed vastly since Elizabeth was first diagnosed, where she had to continually monitor the amount of carbohydrates she consumed. But some things still remain. She has to prick her fingers constantly and wears an insulin pump. She also has to be aware of situations that can cause excitement or nervousness, which causes blood sugar levels to spike. During her first Advanced Placement Test, she was forced get approval for special accommodations as a diabetic in order to leave the room to check her blood sugar, and during a history project presentation she had to step out three times.

Fortunately, Renea Zosel said, the Tahoma School District has been very accommodating.

“We’re lucky,” Renea said. “It’s one of the most supportive districts we have heard of. Some schools don’t want to deal with it.”

In the meantime, Elizabeth said their family hasn’t let diabetes control or define their lives.

“They have raised us so well it’s a normal for us,” Elizabeth said. “When I’m introducing myself to class or we’re writing about ourselves I forget to mention it.”



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