Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Preston Holm (center) stands strong with his family (L to R) sister Cora Thordson, mother Renee Thordson, sister Morgan Thorson and step-father Paul Thordson.

HANSKA — Preston Holm of Hanska will be entering fifth grade this fall and he will have one of the more dramatic summer stories to tell his fellow classmates.

On Memorial Day, not long after finishing his fourth-grade year, Preston almost died. Unknown to Preston or his family he had Type 1 diabetes. Now he is fighting back.

The family was on vacation in Michigan for the Memorial Day weekend. Preston’s mom, Renee Thordson, said they first noticed symptoms on that Saturday. Preston was frequently using the bathroom but was not drinking many fluids. The family also noticed he was getting thinner, but they attributed this to natural growing pains. Preston had also grown in height so it his weight loss seemed normal.

Then on Memorial Day, he had flu like symptoms and the family decided to cut their Michigan vacation short. By the time they reached Chicago Preston’s condition was worse. He was breathing deeply and had a gaunt look on his face. At a rest stop, his mom noticed his teeth were an unnatural color suggesting a lack of oxygen.

The family was near Rockford, Illinois at this point and were uncertain if they should keep going to Minnesota, the turnaround for Chicago or find the nearest hospital.

The family decided to take Preston to the ER at UW Madison, Wisconsin. The family was unaware UW Madison had a children’s hospital, it was pure luck.

“We were probably in the best possible hospital for it,” Renee said. “He could barely walk himself into the ER he could hardly breathe. When he got there he was breathing at 49 percent. His body was in shutdown. They told us if we had pushed to Minnesota he probably would have died.”

The hospital staff diagnosed Preston’s condition quickly. One of the first questions asked was whether he had diabetes. An hour after he was admitted he was officially diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

His mom was crushed by the diagnoses, but Preston was confused.

“I’d heard of it on TV commercials, but I didn’t exactly know how it worked,” Preston said.

Over the next few days, Preston and his family received a crash course in diabetes from Junior Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes research.

According to the JDRF website, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that strikes both kids and adults. With this disease, the pancreas stops producing insulin, which the body uses to produced energy from food. Without it, glucose, a kind of sugar, builds up in the body, causing a variety of short-term and long-term problems.

At this time, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes. Those with the disease must monitor their blood-sugar level and inject insulin daily with meals.

The JDRF provided Preston with education materials and even a stuffed bear to practice injecting an insulin needle.

“It was very helpful because we had no idea what to expect or how to move forward with life,” Renee said.

Even after going through this ordeal, Preston remains strong and determined to fight back. He and his family are putting their support behind JDRF in their efforts to find a cure within his lifetime.

Preston is passionate about fighting the disease, but his mother says she is twice as passionate.

“We need a cure, and we have to do all we can to fight for a cure for these kids,” she said in an email to The Journal. “They say by 2050, one in three kids will have Type 1. That figure is devastating.”

A special fundraiser will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Searles Bar and Grill. There will be a taco bar meal and a silent auction to raise a targeted $5,000 goal. Preston has already collected $1,000 toward the goal.

In addition, Preston will be participating in the JDRF One Walk on Oct. 1 in La Crosse, Wisconsin.