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Diabetes diagnosis inspires charity, career of Westminster graduate

DiabetesAmerican LegionSinai Hospital in BaltimoreJuvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

Some seniors head off to college unsure of what major to pursue or what career field they are headed toward. Not Alexis Ross.

The 17-year-old Westminster High School graduate knew early on what she wanted to do.

"I've always wanted to be a nurse as a child, and after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, that's when I really got involved," said Ross, who graduated Sunday.

In 2008, Ross was in the seventh grade when, in October, her health took a dramatic downturn.

"It was really scary. I lost 20 pounds during that weekend," she said. "I was real thin and real thirsty, and I went to the bathroom a lot."

Her mother rushed her to Carroll Hospital Center, where they immediately checked her blood sugar.

"It was over 1100 — normally it should be between 80 and 150," she said.

She was transferred to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore for treatment, and her health was stabilized.

"They taught me how to treat it, and now I'm doing really good with it," Ross said, "but I still see an endocrinologist every three months."

Ross has gotten used to the routine: She checks her blood sugar four to six times a day and gives herself insulin injections to balance her blood sugar rate four times a day.

Wanting to support research to find a cure to Type 1 diabetes, often referred to as juvenile diabetes, Ross started making barrettes decorated with ribbons in Ravens colors and sold them at different events, donating the money to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

While she was proud of her donations, she decided she wanted to do more.

"That only helps finding a cure for diabetics, but I didn't want to just only help diabetics," she said. "So my freshman year of high school is when I started my organization, which is called ‘Live, Hope, Laugh,' and that's to help children and teens with chronic illnesses."

The name of her organization is an abbreviation for "Live for a brighter future, hope for tomorrow, and laugh always," she said. It's the message she tries to impart with the youths and their families that she interacts with through her organization.

At first, Ross started finding families of chronically ill children and teens through the Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., but then awareness of her organization started spreading through word of mouth and families sought her out. At Christmas, she adopts these families, getting a copy of their Christmas wish lists and then buying the gifts for them when they can't afford to buy the gifts themselves.

The first three years she and her family went to the people's homes to give the presents out, but as it grew from three families to 20, they rented the American Legion hall in Westminster and had all the families come to the event, where Santa Claus gave out the gifts.

"Personally, I love this program because you leave seeing the families happy and tears in the parents' eyes," Ross said.

Another side of her foundation is to hold monthly activities for kids with chronic illnesses to get together, get out and have some fun. Activities have included roller skating, summer picnics and bowling. The events are free to the participants, paid for through fundraisers such as bake sales, motorcycle runs and sports game tickets that Ross sells through her nonprofit.

In school, Ross started a diabetes club, and served as the group's president. The club functions like a support group, she said, and members talk about their experiences and sometimes share sugar-free desserts.

To pursue her dream of being a nurse, Ross entered the nursing program through Carroll County Career and Technology Center. As a result, she is now a certified nursing assistant, a geriatric nursing assistant and a certified medical assistant.

This fall, she will be attending Carroll Community College to finish her prerequisites before she hopes to transfer to a school with a bachelor's degree program in nursing.

Caroline Ross, Alexis' mother, said she couldn't be more proud of her daughter.

"She had dedicated the past four years to her organization. She's at a point where she's helping over 20 families over a year through various programs," she said. "Alexis has a big, big heart and has done so much already at such a young age."

Much like her work for her nonprofit, Ross sees her desire to be a nurse as a way she can be of assistance to others.

"I enjoy helping people," she said. "It's something I've always loved to do."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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