Young woman wins hearts by taking a walk to help cure diabetes

Teagan Van Mulligen was like any ordinary girl, until the age of nine...

Teagan Van Mulligen was like any ordinary girl, until the age of nine, when a shocking diagnosis changed her life forever. The young Windermere Elementary School student was whisked away to the Calgary Children’s Hospital when her father Chris noticed a dramatic change in his daughter’s appearance and physical condition.

“Physically, she had lost a lot of weight” he said.

Slated for a much-deserved trip to Disneyland with her grandparent’s, the bright and dauntless young girl had to forego a fun-filled week for tests, doctors, and a diagnosis that would have rattled any adult. Teagan was officially diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

“I remember all of it — it wasn’t scary that’s not the right word, but it’s not like it was nothing,” she said of her ordeal. After Teagan’s mom (Jean Potter) explained the challenges of the potentially life-threatening condition to her and the changes in lifestyle that it would entail, Teagan bravely dug her feet in and moved forward full force with a new perspective and a positive goal —  to become an activist and to raise awareness about the disease.

“My mom had to explain what I had to do — I was obviously scared, but I knew I couldn’t change it,” said Teagan.

With that powerful affirmation, Teagan decided to become a champion for finding a cure through research by raising $1,000 with her father Chris in the Telus Walk To Cure Diabetes. The inspiring duo, along with friends, family and supporters joined other campaigners in a mass fundraising effort to elicit funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in Cranbrook on Sunday, September, 28th.

Along with key supporters Corey Martin (friend), Kally Van Mulligen (sister) and her loving mom and dad, Teagan not only secured their quota of funding, but raised an astounding total of more than $31,000 for Juvenile Diabetes research through the day’s collaborative efforts.

“I think it would be cool if they created an artificial pancreas,” she said. Research is of utmost importance to the mature beyond-her-years activist.

“They are trying to come up with continuous glucose monitors,” she said, adding such a method would automatically check and alter insulin levels as needed in the body.

Teagan’s medical knowledge of her condition is impressive, as she carefully explained dealing with seizures and walking into fireplaces absently, “I walked into the fireplace, but it wasn’t burning.”

The humorous and matter fact way of dealing with the quirks inherent in her condition is apparent in how she communicates the uncomfortable issues that can arise from complications from low levels of insulin. Low levels of insulin have resulted in unconscious states and fainting spells Teagan has no recollection of. She talks openly and warmly of her supportive family and her sister Kally, who have been there solidly through those tough episodes.

“When I wake up in the morning… if I feel low I will test right in bed — if it’s a school day, I will get dressed and do my hair and I’ll come into the kitchen, test, and eat,” she said.

Part of her routine involves an onsite pump that insulin is injected into.

“It’s a little needle as well as a plastic tube — the tube stays in and the needle part comes out, so there’s no metal in you, just the plastic part. I have to change it every three days, because you can’t do it in the same spot every time and so you have to relocate it,” she said.

Hitting a nerve can be painful and scary if it occurs during the process of inserting the pump.

“One time I hit a blood vessel really big and the blood started coming through the tubing — so I just took it out,” she said.

A trip to the hospital is the result should an episode occur at school and the necessity of a glucagon kit (the equivalent of an epi pen for diabetics) but, for the most part Teagan has been without incident as she gracefully navigates her condition.

“It’s not great, but it’s manageable — the only thing that really sucks is that a lot of people think that I can’t eat sugar, sometimes I’ll be at school and people will think I can’t have it,” she said, adding increasing awareness and education about Type 1 Diabetes is a big deal to her and her family.

Given her diligent and heroic efforts in dealing with her condition, Teagan is proving that good can come out of the most trying situations.

“She is a walking math equation,” said her father Chris, elaborating that doing all the checks and balances is part of negotiating the tricky waters of Type 1 Diabetes and his young activist/philanthropist and soon-to-be entrepreneur is managing with swagger and flying colours.

“I’m going to sell things at the Invermere market, and all the money I make I’m going to give to research — I’d like to raise $5,000 or more,” said Teagan, speaking on the the details of her ‘All things in a jar,’ business idea, in which she plans to jar and then sell everything from cakes to salads.

“I want to say thanks to anybody who helped — just everybody and I’d especially like to thank my dad because he raised a lot of the money through work and friends,” she said. Donations from friends, colleagues, the community and Chris’ generous hockey team The Inside Edge, all contributed to the cause and Teagan’s $1,000 dollar pledge was realized in three days.

“I’m just hoping that it helps,” said Teagan, of her fundraising efforts.