La Jollan Sherry Ahern to be honored as ‘Mother of the Year’ at City of Hope luncheon
City of Hope luncheon honoring La Jollan Sherry Ahern
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. May 24
WHERE: Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 1 Park Blvd., San Diego
TICKETS: $75. To pay by mail, send a check or money order to City of Hope luncheon, 5090 Shoreham Place, Suite 212, San Diego, CA 92122. To pay by credit card, call (858) 452-6846.
Pediatric Diabetes Research Center at UCSD: pdrc.ucsd.edu
By Pat Sherman
Though well known in La Jolla for her community fundraising and volunteer work, there is nothing Sherry Ahern is more passionate about than finding a cure for diabetes.
For her tireless efforts to raise money for diabetes research, Ahern will be honored as the City of Hope’s “Mother of the Year,” during the Gussie K. Singer chapter’s annual fundraising luncheon, 11:30 a.m. May 24 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel.
Ahern and her husband, Kevin, immersed themselves in the cause 12 years ago, when their then 10-year-old son, Brendan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes — a chronic condition characterized by unusually high or low shifts in blood sugar.
“We went straight to Children’s Hospital and he was in intensive care for a week,” Ahern recalled. “To be seen by a doctor at Children’s, because there were only a few, you could wait easily for four hours.”
Type 1 diabetes can be fatal if not managed with frequent insulin treatments.
“It’s not hour to hour; it’s minute to minute,” Ahern said. “It is a nasty, nasty disease. Like any parent, I would take it from him in one second if I could.”
Ahern and her husband delved into diabetes fundraising within a month of their son’s diagnosis in 1999, joining the board of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, where they remained for 10 years.
They currently serve on the board of La Jolla’s Pediatric Diabetes Research Center (PDRC), which they helped establish a couple of years ago with local attorney and businessman, David Winkler, who has lived with diabetes since age 7.
“There’s a huge amount of people with type 1 diabetes and there are many, many more to come,” Ahern said.
The PDRC is currently housed in a building owned by Winkler on the campus of UC San Diego, and includes a research facility, under the auspices of Dr. Alberto Hayek, one of the world’s leading pediatric endocrinologists.
The PDRC board is in negotiations to partner with City of Hope, and will relocate PDRC’s research facility to a larger building that will include a center for the treatment of pediatric diabetes. The building, set to open in 2016, will be made possible by a donation from Qualcomm President Steve Altman and his wife, Lisa.
Ahern said there are currently only a couple of physicians in private practice locally who treat type 1, or juvenile, diabetes. The only other treatment option is Rady Children’s Hospital, she said.
Local City of Hope spokesperson Robyn Hima said Ahern’s vision of research institutes working collaboratively and sharing information to find a cure for diabetes appealed to the charitable organization.
“City of Hope at any one time has collaborations with over 200 medical institutions across the United States, so it’s a good fit,” Hima said. “We heard that Sherry hadn’t been honored in the community before and she does so much for so many. We wanted to thank her for what she has done.”
Ahern recalls sleeping with one eye open during her son’s teen years — a time when fluctuations in hormone levels are accompanied by drastic fluctuations in a diabetic’s blood sugar levels.
“If your blood sugars go too high or too low you can die — and very quickly,” Ahern said. “Even if you’re doing everything right, you can still be in a position to have either one of those things happen.”
Other possible complications related to diabetes include blindness, amputations, heart problems and neuropathy.
“It eventually wears down your organs,” Ahern said.
Ahern’s son, who was captain of the football team at Francis Parker High School, is now a senior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he also plays football.
“He’s doing very well,” his mother said. “He’s wearing a continuous monitor on his abdomen that he changes out once a week, (which feeds) his blood sugars 24/7. It gives him much better control of his diabetes.
Ahern is also known for her work with the Riford Center and Helen Woodward Animal Center. In 1998 she founded La Jolla’s Open Aire Market, which raises money for La Jolla Elementary School.
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