Newsday article by Caryn Eve Murray | Published: August 7, 2004
Poised at the water's edge on the rocky coast of the Long Island Sound, Richard Buonaiuto and eight teens with diabetes took the plunge together.
The kids, who arrived there late last month as winners of an essay contest, came to train and get certified for their ultimate prize - an all-expense-paid adventure scuba vacation in the Virgin Islands, through Aug. 1. That's where Buonaiuto, of Soundview Scuba in Southold, came into the picture: He was among those seeing that they trained safely and properly for an extreme sport that, for persons with diabetes, can be especially risky. And, in a way, even for this veteran instructor, this was new water, too. "I have never instructed eight children all with Type 1 diabetes," said Buonaiuto, 32, of Miller Place. "So it was definitely different." There was, for one thing, rigorous testing of blood-sugar levels before any dive, and between the medical staff that accompanied the kids, and the instructors from Soundview, instruction was undertaken on a 1-to-1 ratio. But it was doable, and that was the point of the Ascensia Dream Fund contest, sponsored by Bayer Diagnostics: to engage diabetic kids in more than just wishful thinking.
In short, to dive right in.
"Many people with diabetes are told, in general, that they can never fly a plane, never join the military and never scuba dive. But we are working with some doctors and other people around the country to make this happen," said Colleen McCarthy LaPierre, 36, who won the first-ever grant from the fund earlier this year. LaPierre, diagnosed with diabetes at age 13, recently became a certified scuba diver and soon after developed this program. The Rhode Island resident, director of programs for the Barton Center for Diabetes Education in Massachusetts, learned from her friend Pat Pierson at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Yaphank that Soundview Scuba was available to do the training. Camp Quinipet on nearby Shelter Island offered a convenient and roomy enough site for classroom training, nearby pool work and overnight accommodations for the 16- and 17-year-olds, who came from around the country to prepare for the adventure.
"You have to start charting your blood-sugar trends early, and an hour before the time we dive, we do a pre-dive check, an hour before, a half-hour before, and 10-minutes before," she said. The danger, LaPierre explained, is that hypoglycemia - too low a blood sugar - can lead to passing out. So crackers and other snacks were present along with the traditional scuba gear."The kids were fantastic, very eager, very enthusiastic," said Buonaiuto, whose own scuba adventures have taken him to the South Pacific and the south Caribbean. "I am sure a lot of kids think about it; if their parents or doctor says, 'You are not going to scuba dive,' they probably won't pursue it," he said. "But now kids can say, 'These kids did it, why can't I?'"