In many ways, Andrei Marti looks and acts like any seven-year-old. He is full of energy and eager to get on with things.
“Sweetie, you are going too fast for me,” says his mother Annelies Browne, as they are stuffing clear plastic bags with empty bottles stacked in the back of their orange Honda CRV.
School finished little more than an hour ago on this grey Wednesday afternoon and a light rain drifts across the bare parking lot of the Glanford Avenue recycling centre where Andrei and his mom are working with practiced hands to fill the bags and lift them onto a blue metal cart waiting to be rolled up the ramp that leads into the recycle centre. In the end, they will come back with $11.
Yet what might look like an ordinary, even pesky chore represents nothing less than Andrei’s defiant contribution to find a cure for a disease that affects him along with more than 300,000 Canadians — Type 1 Diabetes (T1D.)
It is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone that allows humans to use and store sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates as an energy source.
People with T1D (which accounts for about five to 10 per cent of all cases of diabetes in Canada) face a host of medical complications that could lead to brain damage and death.
T1D generally develops in childhood and medical science continues to search for its cause(s) and cure.
But do not tell that to Andrei. When he first received his diagnosis in August 2015, the doctor told him that there would be no cure in his (the doctor’s) lifetime. “Well, there will be in mine,” Andrei said.
He has since participated in various efforts to raise funds and awareness about the disease. In February, he started to collect recyclables. As of this writing, he has raised at least $2,220, with the money going towards the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)
Those efforts have earned Andrei national recognition and made him a finalist for a local philanthropy award to be presented on Nov. 15 at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
Andrei plans to fundraise until a cure is found and become a medical doctor.
These ambitions though run up against certain realities. Andrei must monitor what he eats. He has to check his blood 10 times a day. And he has to inject himself with insulin six times a day.
His family also has to deal with additional medical expenses. “Suddenly, your family has to spend $600 a month [on insulin] that you don’t have,” says Browne, who calls her son’s diagnosis a “game changer.”
“It’s not cancer, but it is definitely a life-changing moment.”
Browne still remembers it. “I screamed. I had a complete meltdown,” she says.
Looking back, Browne says she is “completely flabbergasted” by the way Andrei has handled this “new normal.” He is outgoing and has never been squeamish about injecting himself, she says. “I never cried once over a needle,” he says with quiet pride.
It is not certain whether medical science will ever find a cure for T1D, but recent efforts by JRDF are promising. “(They) are getting closer and closer to finding a cure,” says Annelies.
If so, Andrei will have done his part too.