From Diagnosis to Camp: The Mihelich Family’s Story

March 18, 1990 was a night that Randy Mihelich would never forget. That night, he was brought to Elmhurst Hospital by his parents, and subsequently learned that his blood glucose was 1,029, far exceeding the average range. Randy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes that evening, changing the course of his life forever. He knew that diabetes wasn’t a disease he’d ever be able to “turn off,” but he courageously chugged forward, eventually learning how to better accept and manage the physical and emotional trappings of type 1 diabetes through Association camp programs.

Randy met his wife, Katie, in college. She’s been fully supportive of his diabetes since they met, carrying extra glucose tabs, holding onto his insulin and shots and describing their dating experience as “nothing out of the ordinary.” However, her perspective on diabetes care completely changed when their eldest daughter, Ava, was diagnosed in 2013 at age four. Both Randy and Katie’s hearts sank when they heard the news, but Ava—the spirited, bundle of energy she is—remained optimistic. She had her father as a diabetes role model, and her mother as an exemplary foundation of care.

Randy’s immediate plan upon Ava’s diagnosis was to send her to one of our camp programs. For him, camp was an enlightening experience that welcomed an entirely new network of kids into his life—kids who were “just like him,” dealing with the everyday challenges of managing diabetes, who would become lifelong friends. He wanted the same for Ava.

At only four years old, Ava followed her father’s footsteps and attended her first camp, where she learned to check her blood glucose, count carbohydrates, independently administer insulin and develop a better understanding of her disease. Most importantly, Ava fostered friendships that will last a lifetime. Molly, Ava’s younger sister, acted as a supportive sidekick, attending camp alongside her and playing a large caregiver role in the family’s everyday diabetes management.

Shortly after Ava’s first camp experience, the Mihelich family began riding in the Chicagoland Tour de Cure, one of our fundraising cycling events. This event raises critical funds for diabetes research, advocacy and programs such as camp. “Team Ava’s Peeps” invites friends, family and fellow campers to ride 10 miles through the beautiful, suburban trails of Chicagoland, all in support of Randy, Ava and the entire diabetes community. In addition to rallying the Mihelich network behind this important cause, Ava also used her story to leverage fundraising on corporate teams. In 2014, she spoke to a room full of Walgreens executives, urging them to support Association programs like camp through events like Tour de Cure.

From multiple generations of camps to Tour de Cure, our programs have bonded the Mihelich Family for more than 25 years, providing hope, tradition and a lifetime of treasured memories. In June 2017, we were proud to honor Randy, Katie, Ava and Molly at the Chicago Father of the Year Awards as the Association’s Chicago Mission Family after they raised over $30,000 during the event’s Fund-A-Mission program. Randy and Ava haven’t been able to “turn off” their diabetes, but they choose to embrace its everyday challenges, in hopes to someday realize our vision: a life free of diabetes and all its burdens.

As a long-time National Sponsor of the American Diabetes Association, Walgreens promotes the importance of physical activity with corporate teams that participate in Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes® and Tour de Cure® events across the country, and through our summer camps where youth learn independence and valuable skills needed to live a full and healthy life.

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