Justin Ricklefs


Finger Prickers, $12,000 Puppies and Beautiful Bravery

“I dare you to turn it up to a 7….”

“No way.”

“Come on, don’t be so scared…”

With 5 active kids who all have friends of their own, it seems like there are always other kids in the house who don’t share our last name.

One night in particular, a bunch of kids were over.

And for once, they weren’t all isolated on their phones. They were hanging with us in the kitchen.

The music was turned up. There was lots of laughter. Some joking around. And Brooke even jumped in on some TikTok dances.

Around the island in our kitchen, our youngest was trying to be as cool as the older girls. Jumping in their laps, talking about cute boys, just trying to be part of it.

That’s when the above exchange took place.

“I dare you to turn it up to a 7,” she said to me.

Now, I don’t love giving blood, but I don’t really mind it either. I’m a once a year kind of blood giver. My dad has given like 15 gallons or something crazy.

But anyway.

The worst part by far is the finger prick, way worse than the actual blood draw. Once I’m through that part, I know it’s smooth sailing.

And it’s only a matter of time before I get to crush some Nutter Butters and apple juice.

So when our daughter asked me to turn it up to a 7, my instinct was “no way.”

I’ll get the exact words wrong, but what she was holding in her hand was a blood sugar finger prick instrument.

It has a dial that goes from 1 to 7, each number representing a more intense prick.

I agreed to a 1. Not a 7. No chance.

Our youngest thought this thing was pretty awesome, almost like a toy. That drew blood.

But it’s far from a toy for one of the 13-year-old girls who was at our house that night. She has relied on that instrument since she was 2-years-old.

Not once a year like me.

But dozens of times. Daily.

She has Type 1 Diabetes.

If you didn’t know any better, well…you wouldn’t know. She’s funny, athletic, pretty, smart, confident, all the things you’d hope your kid would be.


Kenna is in the yellow by her mom.

But for all the things she has going for her, that damn finger pricker thingy is always along for the ride.

Reminding her that she’s a blood sugar reading away from taking a tough turn.

I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Type 1. I know more now than I ever have, because of her.

But I do know that it’s not even close to fair.

Diagnosed at two-years-old, everything changed. Not because she made tons of bad decisions. Or lived some crazy lifestyle.

It was simply the card she was dealt.

We were on the gracious end of an invitation to attend a black-tie event a few months back. The JDRF Dream Gala. We’ve been to several events like it in our day, but not this one.

I’d heard they may raise close to $2,000,000 in this single night, all going towards finding a cure so sweet, innocent two-year-old girls and boys don’t get the finger pricker sentence and all that tags along with it.

The parents of this brave young lady have become great friends, so we got to hang with them at their table that evening.

The night was lovely.

A great meal, strong drinks, two desserts.

Brooke looked lovely in her black dress. We saw other dear friends we hadn’t seen in ages. We enjoyed terrific company at our table.

Brooke even held a puppy who got auctioned off for $12,000+. Not to us.

But without question, the star of the show was Kenna.

JDRF had several Type 1 kiddos there that night as ambassadors. They sold raffle tickets, helped with odds and ends at check-in, and popped on stage to be interviewed at key points in the program.

It was Kenna’s turn.

The emcee said, “so Kennedy (her full name), tell me when you found out you had Type 1…”

“I was 2-years-old.”

“And how old are you now?”

“I’m 13.”

With a glucose monitor patch on her tricep, in her lovely dress, and doing what most adults would be terrified of doing, Kenna stood in front of 1,000ish people and confidently owned how hard this finger pricker sentence had been in her life.

There’s never a break. Never an off-day. You can’t leave it at home when you go on vacation.

When you’re at a slumber party and wake up at 3am and your blood sugar is low, you can’t go back to sleep.

When your parents can see your blood sugar levels are low during the middle of a soccer or basketball game, you don’t get to wait until halftime for orange slices or a Capri Sun after the game.

When you’re making TikTok videos in a friend’s living room and their little sister dares the room to turn it up to a 7, you laugh.

Because of course you do.

It’s funny when some old dad gets scared of getting pricked once. In the comfort and safety of his own home.

But it’s not so funny when your finger tips are calloused from all the times you’ve pricked your own.

And it’s not so funny when you have to move those patches around to different parts of your body because the relied upon areas get sore.

Or you just don’t want people to see them. Or explain for the millionth time what the hell they are. Or hear some punk kid’s jokes at school.

I bet it’s not so funny when your phone dies, and your parents can’t get ahold of you, so naturally they assume the worst, even though everything is perfectly fine.

I imagine it’s not so funny when you look around and everyone else seems to be living their life just peachy, while you’re carrying around this finger pricker anvil.

So after the puppy bidding, the island getaway auction, the Mahomes autographed stuff, and the “Fund-A-Cure” paddle raising went from $250,000 all the way down to $500 (I’ll let you guess what end of the spectrum our paddle got raised…), the emcee rolled back out.

The lights went dim. The video screens light up.

And they announced that over $2,000,000 was raised in that one night.

To find a cure for the damn finger pricker.

Kenna kind of came out of nowhere to our table, maybe from behind the stage. Straight to her parents, the ones who have worried and fretted and prayed and hoped these last 11 long, terrifying, beautiful years.

She just buried her face in their necks. The money doesn’t guarantee a thing of course, but you could sense this massive relief.

Like for a second, there might just be this glimmer of hope that the finger pricker anvil can get tossed into the sea.

That she can rip the patch off. That she can eat a meal without worrying. That she can step into the deeper parts of herself, the ones beyond a label.

Because we were the closest to her, Brooke and I got her next.

Maybe it was the stiff drinks and the emotions of the night, but through tears, we told her “keep fighting, there’s going to be a cure for this thing, you’re a brave girl and we’re so proud to be in your corner…”

There will be 40,000 Kenna’s diagnosed with Type 1 each year. 40,000 more sets of worried and confused parents, 40,000 more finger prickers and 40,000 more constant prayers for a cure.

Odds are it will take more than $2,000,000. But for Kenna’s sake, I’m praying it won’t.

Keep fighting Kenna, you’re brave.

Beautifully brave.

Little man has Type 1 too. He was lucky to have Kenna as his running mate that night.

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