The Coast News Group
Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes allowed Zola, left, to be adopted by Keary Cheney and her husband, Justin, from Uganda in 2016. Photo by Steve Puterski

Diabetes diagnosis helps bring Carlsbad family together

CARLSBAD — An incorrect diagnosis nearly cost her life.

Upon more testing, though, Keary Cheney, 30, discovered she was a Type 1 diabetic. Her organs began shutting down and she fell into a coma, while her husband, Justin, was in Uganda in 2015 to adopt Oliver, who was just 6 months old.

And what was supposed to be a three-month process turned in 15 months as the Cheneys received an unexpected surprise, adopting Zola, a 6-year-old, who was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, in which the body does not produce insulin. Zola would only be adopted to a parent with Type 1 diabetes.

“I was told I had parasites,” Cheney said. “The symptoms and undiagnosed Type 1 are the same. When I heard my diagnosis, I was very shocked. I didn’t even know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2.”

In Uganda, Cheney began to feel ill and was flown back to San Diego to undergo treatment after her organs began shutting down and slipped into a 24-hour coma. She lost her eyesight, suffered memory loss and had fatigue over the next several months.

After several weeks, she returned to Uganda and began the process of adopting their two kids. Finally, in 2016, the kids came to the U.S. and the family moved to El Cajon before moving to Carlsbad at the beginning of this year.

During the process, though, Keary and Justin Cheney would return home to work for a few weeks.

As for Zola, she weighed just 20 pounds upon meeting the Cheneys and her new brother. Also, she didn’t speak English or the main dialect of Uganda, making communication even more difficult.

Still, growing up in poverty, she maintained a positive outlook on her new parents. And once the diagnosis was discovered, she began putting on weight and becoming healthy.

Thanks to advances in technology, Zola and her mother can now easily track their blood-sugar levels through a Dexcom sensor. It allows the pair to track, in real time, their levels and does not require pricking their fingertips.

Cheney said the Dexcom, which is secured on their arms, constantly uploads data to their smartphones.

“My phone will receive alarms, so if her blood-sugar is low or high my phone will beep really loud so I can go and check on her,” Keary Cheney said.

Their journey also led them to be guests on country music star Eric Paslay and his “Level with Me” podcast, which highlights individuals diagnosed with diabetes.

Another challenge for the Cheneys has been overt racism directed at their children. Keary and Justin Cheney are white, while Zola and Oliver are black, and Keary Cheney saying she didn’t even think about any racial issues while adopting her two children.

She thought it was something in the past, especially in San Diego and being so close to the Mexican border.

“Racism is still alive and happening, unfortunately,” Cheney said. “I was naïve and I thought this isn’t a problem and it very much is. When it happens to your own children, it hurts. It’s just made us more passionate about education and conscious language.”

However, the kids are now thriving in their new environment. Zola, now 10, though, is behind in school because she received no formal education in Uganda.

So, she was home schooled her first several years in the U.S., but will be attending school as a second-grader this year. Cheney said she expects her daughter to quickly catch up as they plan on an accelerated learning plan outside of her regular schoolwork.

But now, Zola has adapted to her new surroundings and has a passion for dancing, cooking, gardening, art and meeting people.

“I like dancing and painting,” Zola said.

Photo Caption: Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes allowed Zola, left, to be adopted by Keary Cheney and her husband, Justin, from Uganda in 2016. Photo by Steve Puterski