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Raising Diabetes Awareness: An Endeavor Close to Mike McDonell’s Heart

After his wife was diagnosed with T1, he dedicated himself to learn more

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

It seems like we were just ringing in the New Year and here it is nearly Valentine’s Day! At my house, I can often count on some lovely flowers from my husband and a nice dinner together. But even more than that, I know I can count on him to support what’s important to me, year-round. Today I’d like to introduce you to another supportive husband, Mike McDonell. A great example of a “type 3,” Mike has gone out of his way to help raise awareness for diabetes.

From the day Mike’s wife Naomi was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2012, Mike has wanted to be there for her. “I think the biggest thing I did was give her the space to figure it out for herself and what she wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve really tried to stay away from giving advice unless she asks for it. My support is more of being a sounding board. She wants to have a person to bounce an idea off of, to make sure her math is right for calculating carbs and insulin at a restaurant, for example. I’m not so great at math, but I try to support her in that way. I think I’ve really worked with her.”

Mike McDonell and Naomi Chaytor
Mike McDonell and his wife, Naomi

For years, Mike and Naomi have regularly enjoyed visiting local bakeries and coffee shops together, often taking walks to partake of cookies and chai tea at one shop, or twice-baked chocolate croissants at another. “Our hobby together has been going out to eat at really nice restaurants and other foodie kinds of things,” he said. “Now when we go to a coffee shop, Naomi drinks a lot more coffee and she doesn’t get a treat. A lot of times, I don’t either. It has influenced my diet in a healthy way.”

The couple’s first Valentine’s Day after Naomi’s diagnosis presented a challenge. “Usually I’d make her a cake or we would go to a bakery or out to dinner,” he said. “We would do something really special but it sort of felt like a loss after Naomi’s diagnosis. A part of our life was just not as important anymore. We had to come to terms with what that meant. The whole world is doing the chocolate thing. Even though Naomi has never been a huge fan of chocolate, it was a metaphor for how we are not going to do Valentine’s Day the same way anymore. That’s something we had to figure out and adjust to.”

This year, Valentine’s Day is shaping up to be sweet in a different way. “Our two boys are getting older so they are getting more excited about holidays and they love their mom, so I think all the McDonell boys will kick in and do something fun for mom,” he said. “They may make her a card. The problem when the three of us do art projects together is that we all come back with some cuts and marker on our faces. We will probably end up making her a nice dinner and get her some flowers. We may also look into treats that are lower carb, like roasted nuts and coffee she is really into now. I think being creative like that and thinking about things that are special for that person and creating an experience, aside from the traditional chocolates, is important.”

Mike remembers a conversation that was a turning point for him. “Naomi told me one night she didn’t think I knew anything about type 1 diabetes,” he said. “I said, ‘I know something. I know a little about this.’ She said, ‘I don’t know if you do.’ It was a real clear message to me that I needed to learn more about type 1 diabetes. I thought, what is a way I can do that? That was the primary purpose for starting my blog. I wanted to show Naomi that I am thinking about type 1 diabetes and holding myself accountable to learn about it.”

On his diabetes blog, My Wife has Diabetes, Mike chronicles his education efforts and fundraising for diabetes research through JDRF. He also documents his running training goals. “I’m a big runner. I have run every day for 4 1/2 years,” he said. “I do it for my kids, for Naomi and for myself because I want to stay healthy. I thought, I will try to link my blog to my running, too and maybe I could raise some money and awareness for people living with diabetes. It is really about doing the little bit I can do to support her.” Through his blog, Mike has raised about $1,300 for JDRF.

Raising diabetes awareness is now a family affair. “Our 5-year-old talks to his class about it,” Mike said. “We sometimes hear him talking about diabetes with his friends and he’ll tell them, ‘Mommy’s got diabetes. Mom has to eat now because of diabetes.’ He is pretty aware of it and will talk to kids about it. I think it has been great to see how having diabetes as a part of our lives has really changed the way that we can discuss things with other people.”

Looking ahead, the couple has big plans for their upcoming anniversary. “We’ve been married 10 years this summer,” Mike said. “We are planning to go to Italy for our anniversary. We’re wondering how that is going to look. How is this going to be for us, traveling abroad with type 1 diabetes? What is it going to be like to go out to dinner? She is a psychologist so she is doing a lot of research on that at this point.”

What a heartwarming show of support! I’m impressed with Mike’s initiative to learn more about diabetes and share his results with others. I also like his idea of creating an experience for Valentine’s Day. How will you be celebrating the day of big red hearts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. My thanks to Mike for sharing his story.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Mike McDonell received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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