Danville darling tackles life with diabetes like a pro

gracie hernandez danville 6-year-old with diabetesSix-year-old Gracie Hernandez likely won’t think about her insulin pump much during Saturday’s game against the UNC Tar Heels. She might not think much about the Illini or Lovie Smith, either.

The Danville first grader will be there for the spectacle, for the experience.

“She likes any kind of excitement,” Gracie’s mother Kayla Hernandez said. “She’s a tomboy. At the hockey rink, she wants to see them fight.

“She’ll like it when players get tackled.”

Carle’s Child Life Services again is partnering with Special Spectators and the Fighting Illini to provide a special experience for some of Carle’s youngest patients and their families. The high-impact fun—complete with kid-focused tailgating and a Memorial Stadium tour—offers a break from the always-present worry and work of caring for a child with health challenges.

Kayla recalls clearly how she felt when her family learned their then-toddler would face a lifetime of blood-sugar checks, insulin and doctor visits.

“It was a slap in the face,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

Tough Gracie, for the most part, takes her health challenges in stride.

“She has to check her blood sugar 10 times a day. At 6, she does it herself,” Kayla said. “It’s a part of life for her.

“She doesn’t remember life without it.”

Gracie spent about a week at Carle Foundation Hospital in early July. Once she started feeling better, she reveled in the activities Child Life specialists provided to help with her time in the hospital.

“She enjoys the attention,” Kayla said. “She loves the crafts, painting treasure boxes and even jewelry boxes.”

IVs are another story. So Child Life stands ready.

“Gracie had to have four pokes, but Bridget (Ruholl) brought in bubbles and other coping mechanisms to distract us all,” Kayla said.

Child Life specialists support children and families with whatever their needs might be.

“We help kids of all ages understand what the doctors and nurses are doing so it’s less scary. We use diversionary tools during procedures to help children cope, while also trying to normalize the hospital setting because play truly is the best medicine,” Ruholl said.

Those well-timed kindnesses don’t go unnoticed.

“Bridget was a ray of sunshine, someone to help us get through it,” Kayla said.

A network of families whose children cope with Type 1 diabetes helps Kayla, too. The Scentsy director works from home to care for Gracie and her 3-year-old brother Gael, so those connections mean even more.

“When Gracie was first diagnosed, I felt segregated from the world,” Kayla said, calling the families she’s met through diabetes groups on Facebook her “tribe.”

“As human beings, we’re wired to have friendships and relate with other people. It’s nice getting to know other peoples’ situations, bouncing ideas off other families and making connections.”

Kayla is excited for Gracie to make new connections at the big game.

But whether or not Gracie walks away from Saturday’s event an Illini  fan, Kayla and husband Alejandro will be there to help Gracie be as healthy as possible so she can simply experience being a kid.