Lalley: An aunt's devotion intersects with news anchor's network to help Type 1 diabetics
The pandemic curtailed resources for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Sioux Falls. Jessi Buer is fighting to revive the organization.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Type 1 Diabetes stalked Jessi Buer’s family, invading the immune systems of select members of each generation.
An uncle died from complications of diabetes.
Buer’s brother has lived with it since before she was born.
“It’s always been a part of my life,” said Buer, who lives in DeSmet. “It was normal for my family.”
Then three years ago, her niece, Sierra — Buer’s “little girl” — was diagnosed as well.
It was another blow, another familial link to a disease which usually emerges in childhood, for which there is no cure, just treatment with insulin and diet.
On this journey though, perhaps the scarcest medicine is information.
That’s what Buer discovered as she watched Sierra and her parents navigate the implications of a life-altering diagnosis. They simply weren’t getting the support and resources that Buer knew they needed, and deserved.
She contacted the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation chapter that covers South Dakota, as well as Minnesota and North Dakota.
“I gave them my two cents and a piece of my mind,” she said.
Which, as these things go, led to a seat on the board of directors.
Which, as these things go, revealed a situation that was graver than anticipated.
The pandemic had devastated the organization. The local office, which once had a full-time employee, was shuttered by cutbacks.
“To be honest there was not a focus on South Dakota for JDRF at all,” she said.
Buer dove in, reorganizing the annual fundraising walk last June, basically on her own. And though she wished it would have been bigger, at least it happened.
Previous JDRF One Walks had attracted up to 1,000 people before the pandemic.
Last year, there were about 100 participants. But still, they raised about $13,000 that day, exceeding the goal.
It was a start, but the road ahead seemed difficult to say the least.
It’s a 90-minute drive from DeSmet to Sioux Falls. Buer has a full-time job in financial crimes compliance and two sons to raise.
“I do tend to burn myself out because I don’t know my limits,” she said.
That’s when Brian Allen showed up.
Yes, Brian Allen from TV, the news anchor at Dakota News Now.
The Brian Allen with a big heart and a childhood spent battling an autoimmune disorder.
And, just for good measure, about 25,000 Facebook followers.
He put the word out, which brought volunteers to the cause. And he joined forces with Buer to make a team of two.
I’ve known Brian for around three decades, going all the way back to working as young reporters in Sioux City, then covering the Iowa Legislature. We had something of a reunion when he arrived back in Sioux Falls to take the anchor’s chair at KSFY, which has since folded into the Dakota News Now collective of stations.
I know him to be an earnest and thoughtful person, which is probably the opposite of a TV caricature of pop culture.
So I believe his commitment to kids and JDRF to be one of sincerity and not publicity.
“While the end result is fundraising, we are trying to get more people involved by talking about compassion, kindness and empathy,” Allen told me when we first chatted about his interest in JDRF. “If we recognize a need and do nothing about it then what does that say about us?”
The details are coming together for the 2023 JDRF One Walk in Sioux Falls. Exact date and place aren’t yet finalized but it will be in early June 2023.
More than 30 people showed up for an organizational meeting in October. There most certainly will be more hands to do the work.
Buer hopes not to just raise awareness, but also to bring people with Type 1 Diabetes together for support and sharing information. Her niece is 15 now and just passed three years since the diagnosis.
The experience points out that people with Type 1 need to know what options are available to them and how to access resources.
The fortunate pairing of an aunt on a mission and a news anchor with a platform may go a long way to ensuring that happens.
“I kind of get mad,” Buer admits. “The diabetics in my life deserve those resources.”