Abby Herrin of Ahwatukee deals with a challenge nobody her age should endure, but she turned it into a teachable moment that many people far older could learn from.
A week before her 11th birthday last year, the Horizon Honors eighth grader was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes – a disease that can tire her out when she wants to keep playing, forces her to wear an irritating glucose monitor and insulin pump and always poses a threat to her life.
Yet, Abby wouldn’t let any of this get her down. Instead, she has turned her experience into an avenue for helping other children just like herself.
Remembering the gifts she got from people she didn’t even know when she was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital last year, Abby learned to sew and make pillows for all the children admitted there for treatment of Type 1 diabetes, or T1D.
The gifts helped her feel “supported and cared for” and gesture “helped ease her fears and anxiety and bring a little light on a terrible situation,” said her mother, Peggy Herrin.
So, Abby started a business, Pillow Fight T1D, with the hope her pillows will “help children to cuddle when sad or hit when angry with their situation.”
Explained Abby, somewhat shy about talking about herself: “I just wanted to start helping other children so I learned to sew and thought the pillows would be good for other kids.”
The gifts that Abby received when she was admitted to the hospital last year could not have come at a better time, her mother recalled.
She had been complaining of not feeling well and her doctor decided to have some blood work done.
The results came back with a chilling message for her mom: Get her to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital as soon as possible.
Frightened after being pulled out of class, she was further terrified when Phoenix Children medical staff decided to admit her in order to stabilize her blood sugar level.
Being a “totally self-sufficient” little girl, Abby adjusted to her new reality, her mother said.
While that reality has not completely kept her from doing things she likes to do, like swimming and hanging out with friends, it does slow her down. And she has to wear the monitor and pump, the latter of which must be moved to a different part of her body every three days.
“She feels left out at times because she gets tired and has to rest,” Peggy Herrin said.
Abby got a sewing machine for Christmas that her father, Bill Herrin, taught her how to use – after teaching himself first.
She then learned to make pillows, using fabric that she sometimes buys and sometimes receives as gifts from her grandfather or other family members and friends.
“She gets it with different patterns and colors,” her mother said. “Sometimes thye’ll have baseballs on them or flowers or dinosaurs.”
Her goal is to make pillows with a wide assortment of patterns that will appeal to as broad an age range as possible. She also varies their size between six and 12 inches so that kids can pick the size they’re most comfortable with.
Abby wants to make sure every child admitted with T1D at Children’s has a pillow they can choose from to hold and comfort them during what for many of them is the scariest plight they’ve encountered in their young lives.
Making sure there’s enough is no exaggeration, either.
The American Diabetes Association “estimates there are 40,000 new cases of Type 1 diabetes diagnosis each year,” Peggy Herrin noted – a statistic that hits close to home, considering Abby’s younger cousin and the sibling of a close friend have both recently been diagnosed with T1D.
And that makes Abby all the more determined, she added, “to show to others that they are not alone with this disease.”