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South Bend girl raises awareness, money for Type 1 Diabetes

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A Michiana girl hopes everyone’s appreciation for pizza can raise awareness and money for a disease that affects her and more than a million other Americans.

In the basement of St. Paul’s Church in South Bend, seven-year-old Gretchen Bennett, and her older sister Olivia, get ready to make pizza alongside their Uncle Jerry.

As Gretchen dances around and rolls out the dough, you notice something on her arm, an ingredient of sorts that plays a more important role than pepperoni on a pizza.

“Gretchen does wear what’s called a CGM, a constant glucose monitor,” said Gretchen’s mom Brandy Bennett.

Gretchen is a Type 1 diabetic. Her pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. Instead, it takes the carbohydrates Gretchen eats and turn them in sugar. Her CGM tracks her blood sugar levels and helps her stay alive.  If left untreated, it can be deadly.

“It is 24/7 365 no matter what we’re doing or where we’re at, there’s always diabetes,” said Brandy.

In August 2016, Gretchen’s parents noticed she lost weight and drank a lot more water than usual. Those are some of the most common symptoms of the autoimmune disease.

Doctors diagnosed Gretchen a month later.  

“I just started bawling,” said Brandy. “Before we got that diagnosis, she was literally dying before our eyes. You feel like you let your child down.”

“The worst thing I heard her say was she had wished she was never born at all,” said Gretchen’s father Dennis Bennett.

The diagnosis changed the family’s life.

 “We can’t just go to the playground and have her run off and play because we have to check her blood sugar and make sure she’s at a healthy range,” said Brandy.

“Sometimes it can be really hard,” said Gretchen. “One time I was walking and I went low and then like it was in school and no one was in the hall and then my foot just suddenly dropped.”

But in between checking Gretchen’s levels six to eight times per day or getting a snack to boost her energy, the Bennett family is adapting and now fighting back, using pizza to hopefully raise $2,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at an a fundraiser this Saturday.

“Hoping to help them continue the research to find the cure,” said Dennis.

The family says it’s an important goal as the price of insulin continues to rise and the disease impacts nearly 1.25 million Americans, including 200,000 youths under the age of 20.

“How is it that this major big pharm company can charge so much for this medication?” asked Brandy. “The formula has not changed.”

Gretchen’s reason for finding a cure is more kid friendly. She doesn’t want others to live with a disease that requires a more important ingredient in their life than pepperoni on a pizza.

“So people with diabetes can’t like if you’re like 9, 10, 7, they can get it over with and not have it,” said Gretchen. “If they go through it, it would just not be like fair.”

 Saturday’s pizza fundraiser is from 2-8 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church in South Bend. Tickets are $10.

To learn more about Gretchen’s Gladiators and the fundraiser, click here.  

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