Mary and Dick Allen were thrilled to be spending the Christmas holidays
with their daughter Jennifer, son-in-law Kevin and their two young children,
2½-year-old Hannah and 7-month-old Jake.
That winter Mary remembered that Hannah had been fighting a persistent
cold and she looked very thin compared to the chubby 2-year-old she was
used to seeing. Her granddaughter was constantly thirsty, she went through
an inordinate amount of diapers, and she complained her eyes hurt - troubling
symptoms that she found hard to explain away by a bad cold.
Back home in the Bay Area on New Year’s Day, Jennifer and Kevin
were concerned enough about Hannah’s health to take her to the pediatric
emergency room at Marin General Hospital. As an afterthought, Kevin mentioned
that Hannah was urinating frequently and constantly thirsty. Alarmed by
her symptoms, the attending physician tested Hannah’s blood sugar
level and sure enough, the results revealed that her blood sugar was dangerously
high, indicating that she had
Type 1 diabetes
. In hindsight, Hannah had the classic constellation of diabetic symptoms.
The Allens had returned home from the movies that afternoon to find a
note from a neighbor that their daughter had been frantically trying to
reach them. They learned that Hannah had been hospitalized and diagnosed
with diabetes. Looking back, Dick says “This was a very emotional
time for our family. We were unsure of what this diagnosis would mean
for our granddaughter and how it would affect our family.”
While the doctors stabilized Hannah’s condition, they gave Jennifer
and Kevin a crash course on how to manage their daughter’s disease
as Mary flew to the Bay Area to care for Jake. Desperate to educate himself,
Dick turned to Dr. Don Williams, now retired but practicing endocrinologist
at the time and toDr. Kris Iyer, himself a Type 1 diabetic, an endocrinologist
and executive medical director of the Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital,
to learn all he could about the disease.
Allen, a Hoag Hospital board member since 1990, was thankful that he had
a relationship with Hoag. With the help of Rick Martin, Hoag’s senior
vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer, Dick and Mary
received diabetes training and in part, did this so that they could help
care for their grandkids. “Diabetes is particularly difficult at
such a young age,” says Dick. “Parents are literally tethered
to their child by the demands of diabetes care.”
Now 15 years old, Hannah feels the impact of her disease in ways any teen
would - the regular monitoring of her blood sugar and the use of an insulin
pump leaves her more reliant on her parents at a time when children her
age are just beginning to explore their independence. To give the family
a little more flexibility, Hannah decided to use the pump. The pump automatically
infuses a preset basal level of insulin throughout the day and also delivers
as-needed “bolus” that is determined by her blood sugar levels
and mealtime carbohydrate counts.
The finger pricking blood sugar tests are done 10 or more times each day
and Hannah can now routinely do them on her own. The carb-counting is
more complicated, however, and she needs help with it. She punches all
this vital information into her pump, waits for her parents to confirm
the pump’s recommended bolus dosage, and then pushes a button that
tells the pump to go ahead. It is a tedious process, but mistakes can
be disastrous so she must pay attention.
Once again, Dick visited Hoag to learn all he could about the device.
But he didn’t stop there. For three days, Dick wore the pump with
the catheter attached - the only difference was that he received saline
injections instead of insulin. He says, “It got in the way but I
wasn’t going to take it off because I knew that Hannah wasn’t
going to be able to take hers off. I really wanted to have the same experience
she was having. The huge difference is she will be having the experience
for the rest of her life.”
That New Year’s Day more than 13 years ago changed the Allens’
life in countless ways as they cycled through the emotions of dealing
with their granddaughter’s illness - first shock, then sadness and
ultimately acceptance and a desire to educate and support others. The
experience has set them on a path dedicated to finding a cure for diabetes
and provided a focus for their philanthropic endeavors, which includes
working with Hoag and JDRF.
For the Allens, their granddaughter’s illness has led to a resolve
extending beyond the experiences of their own family. They see it as their
mission to educate and support others who live with diabetes. The Allens
have been particularly struck by how costly it is to manage diabetes.
“I was stunned to learn that the insulin test strips can cost about
$10 a day - that really opened my eyes to the expenses of this disease,”
For low-income or uninsured families the costs can be devastating, which
ultimately results in sick kids and even sicker adults. Moreover, because
of a shortage of resources, families can wait up to four months or more
for follow-up care from a pediatric endocrinologist and many kids are
forced to travel outside the county to get their care.
Mary and Dick say this is precisely why they have taken a leadership role
in the development of the Diabetes Center at Hoag. In an unprecedented
demonstration of commitment to diabetes care, Hoag, in association with
CHOC and through CHOC, the Pediatric Adolescent Diabetes Research Education
(PADRE), is collaborating to ensure that all members of our community
have timely access to expert diabetes prevention, care and education.
The Allens' generous gift has enabled the Center to offer a full array
of services and importantly, to cover services for those who can’t
afford to pay.
Dr. Iyer says, “Mary and Dick make a great husband and wife team,
they lead by example and make this earth a better place to live. They
never seek fame or glory, which they so richly deserve.” Iyer continues,
“Hoag is fortunate to have them as patrons with compassion and love
With the outstanding support of her family and the latest medical advances,
today Hannah is a thriving and healthy teenager. It is such support that
the Allens and Hoag Hospital are committed to ensuring for all patients
with diabetes and their families.