By VANESSA McCRAY
TRAVERSE CITY -- Ryan Dobry-Hunt couldn't afford doctors' visits when she was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
More than 30 years later, the energetic, local radio DJ and dance instructor hopes her nonprofit can help other diabetics manage the costly and dangerous disease. She started The Ryan Dobry Diabetes Charity in 2000 with a group of friends. It provides uninsured and underinsured diabetics with needed equipment and supplies and funds educational programs at area hospitals.
"It's such a bizarre, sneaky disease that takes over your life," Dobry-Hunt said of diabetes.
To prove the point, she pulled out a well-worn book. The reference guide counts the carbohydrates and lists other nutritional information for hundreds of foods. Every morsel impacts blood-sugar levels, which must be monitored carefully.
A diabetic needs to be knowledgeable to control the disease, so supporting educational efforts as well as dispersing diabetic supplies such as test strips has been a focus for the charity. The organization has given an estimated $16,000 to Munson Medical Center's diabetes education program.
Dobry-Hunt said the charity assists people with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.
"Basically, the more we've gotten involved with the community education programs, they will let us know if someone's in need," she said.
Her organization has also paid for patients' flu shots and sent children to diabetes camp. One of those campers is Aubrey Surowitz, 15. The Elk Rapids High School freshman was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 5. At the downstate Camp Midicha, Aubrey met other young diabetics and felt assured knowing there were medical personnel present. She enjoyed camp so much that she plans to return for her sixth time this summer and eventually wants to be a counselor.
"We can go down there and, especially now (that) I am a teenager, we can talk more about what goes on in everyday life and how we can cope," she said.
The charity also helped Kristy VerSnyder, a type 1 diabetic from Lake Leelanau, obtain an insulin pump, which costs thousands of dollars.
"When I am using shots, my blood sugars (are) all over the place. And, when I am using my insulin pump, it's amazing ...& I feel like a normal person," she said.
VerSnyder is trying to show her gratitude. She is working on a production of "Steel Magnolias" by The Leelanau Players. A central character in the play is diabetic, and her struggles with the disease are a major plot component. Part of the proceeds will go to the diabetes charity.
"Steel Magnolias" will be staged at Leland Public School and runs Feb. 20-22 and Feb. 26-28. All show times are 8 p.m. except for a 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, performance. Tickets are available at the door or, for more information, visit the Web site www.leelanau.com/leelanauplayers.
Volunteers keep Dobry-Hunt's charity going, and annual fundraising events include a golf outing and theme party. The organization welcomes donations and accepts used diabetic equipment in working condition. For more on the charity, go to www.therddc.com.