Wednesday, January 31, 2007
T he day his 2-year-old daughter, Becca, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, was the worst day -- and the best day -- of Ralph Yates' life.
The fact that he was a successful doctor and an Iron Man triathlete didn't mean diddly. He couldn't cajole Becca's body to produce insulin.
He was just as angry, sad and worried as the rest of the parents in the pediatric intensive care unit, hovering helplessly over their offspring, wishing they could turn back time.
"The things that were so important to you before," Ralph Yates says, "lose all significance."
The family's goal: Keep Becca healthy. Maintain normalcy.
So, Laurie Yates baked birthday cakes with artificial sweeteners. She bought art supplies so her neighbors could give a trick-or-treating Becca something besides candy. And she attended every field trip, class party and swim meet, ever ready to give Becca an insulin shot or a snack if her blood sugar got low.
To keep it fair, the Yateses were as intensely involved in their other child's life, too.
"They're amazing people," says son Trevor Yates. "And the fact that Becca is such a complete and successful person is in a large part due to how they raised us."
For more than a decade, Ralph and Laurie Yates coped with being on edge. The couple slept with their bedroom door open. They regularly checked to make sure Becca was breathing. And when she stayed overnight somewhere, Laurie Yates showed up every few hours to check her daughter's blood sugar.
And yet, the Yateses couldn't always stop a sleeping Becca from slipping into a diabetic seizure. Becca even wrote a school essay about what it felt like to almost die.
"It broke our hearts," Laurie Yates says. "Every now and then, the disease kicks you in the teeth to let you know it's still there."
Eventually, the couple had enough of feeling helpless. In 1995, they organized a bike-riding fundraiser. The first year, Summit To Surf (www.summittosurf.org
Ralph Yates is on the board of the American Diabetes Association's National Research Foundation, which is meeting in Portland this weekend. He is also the region's campaign fundraising vice chairman.
For three years, Laurie Yates has been chairwoman of the Portland Diabetes Expo, which will be Saturday at the Oregon Convention Center. (See www.diabetes.org/oregonexpo
Over 12 years, the couple has brought in $3 million for diabetes research. They regularly solicit large donors, speak at conventions and encourage researchers around the country to keep looking for a cure.
And though Becca is a 25-year-old college grad who has lived on the East Coast for seven plus years, they still worry daily about her health.
"When you deal with a chronic illness, you need to know there is hope out there," Laurie Yates says. "And you, sometimes, have to make that hope happen."
Becca Yates considers her parents unsung heroes. But they say the same about her and other diabetics, who are chased by death every day.
Notes Laurie Yates: "There is no 'time out' when they are exhausted, overwhelmed, or need a break."
A hero, then, is all a matter of perspective. Whether you make lemonade or curse the bitter taste. Whether you merely survive with diabetes or fight to find a cure.
"If bad stuff has happened to you, make it mean something," Ralph Yates advises. "Then there's some value to what you've been through. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of sad stories."
S. Renee Mitchell: 503-221-8142; email@example.com