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The Dream Team

She leaps and twirls on Mondays -- dance class. Splashes like a sunfish on Tuesdays -- swimming class. Reaches for the sky on Wednesdays -- gymnastics.

That’s the happy, healthy life of 5-year-old Harper Stafslien, West Fargo, N.D. Living with diabetes, she’s the inspiration for “Team Harper” -- a group of family and friends fired up to find a cure.

On June 16, “Team Harper” will ride in the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure in Fargo. Last year they raised more funds than any other team. Can they do it again?

A proud sponsor, Sanford supports the Tour and its worthy goals: increase diabetes awareness, raise funds for research and most important of all, find a cure!


Harper was 3 years old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes -- a lifelong disease that affects 1 in 500 children and teens. Parents A.J. and Gretchen remember it well. Her only symptom was abnormal urination.

“We thought she might have a bladder infection so we took her to the doctor,” says Gretchen. “The test results were not at all what we expected.”

Tests at Sanford Children’s Broadway Clinic in Fargo showed glucose in the urine and high blood sugar. More tests followed in the next two weeks.

A.J. recalls his reaction to the final diagnosis: “Instantly scared and worried. We’d never dealt with diabetes and didn’t know much about it,” he says. “You wish it was happening to you instead of your kid.”

Though there’s no cure -- at least not yet, people with type 1 diabetes can live long, healthy lives with treatment. Harper’s on a winning track…

Learning more

Early on A.J. and Gretchen had a long conversation with Sanford pediatrician Dr. Brenda Thurlow.

“It was very helpful to find out what we could expect,” says Gretchen. “Dr.Thurlow and her team have been great about answering all our questions.”

Sanford Children’s educational sessions answered many of their questions, too. Led by a multidisciplinary pediatric diabetes team, the sessions covered food choices, serving sizes, medication and more. A.J., Gretchen and Harper all participated.

“The fake food was Harper’s favorite part,” says Gretchen.

The Stafsliens became experts at counting carbohydrates and balancing them with the appropriate insulin. Other important factors include activity level, type of carbohydrates and time of day.

“That’s one of the challenges,” says Gretchen. “We can give Harper the same foods and the same amount of insulin, but they affect her differently from one day to the next.”

A picture of success

The Stafsliens have clearly been successful in managing Harper’s diabetes. Healthy and growing, she’s had no hospitalizations and no complications.

What’s helped?

  • Teamwork. Through emails and texting, A.J. and Gretchen keep each other well-informed of Harper’s blood sugar levels throughout the day. They also track her food and plan insulin accordingly. “It’s become part of our lives,” says A. J.
  • Teaching. A.J. and Gretchen have taken the time to educate others involved in Harper’s life including relatives, friends, teachers and daycare providers.
  • Harper’s spirit of cooperation. “She’s been unbelievable,” says A.J. “No, she doesn’t like getting four shots a day, but she puts up with it. And sure, she’d like to eat candy like other kids do, but she knows that won’t work. For a 5-year-old to be this good about it -- that’s pretty amazing.”
  • As Harper grows up, she’ll take greater responsibility for her diabetes management, including giving herself insulin shots. Already she knows how to check her own blood sugar, with 2-year-old sister Leighton assisting.


    Harper’s little green diabetes bag goes everywhere she goes. It contains her diabetes-management tools including a blood glucose meter, insulin, syringes and emergency treatment in case of dangerously low blood sugar.

    The bag and her diabetes care attract attention, but she doesn’t mind. At preschool, her friends gather around when she checks her glucose. “What is it today? High or low?” they ask.

    “She’s very outgoing,” says Gretchen. “She’s even managed to make diabetes look hip.”

    And the future? Harper dreams big, not letting diabetes get in her way. “I want to be a vet,” she says. “I love puppies and kitties. I want to help them.”

    Just around the corner

    Team Harper’s biggest dream is to find a cure for diabetes.

    “It’s going to happen,” says A.J., team captain. “If not in our generation, then in Harper’s. Increased awareness and more support bring us that much closer.”

    Go Team! Go Harper!

    Posted Date: May 2012