It was Mother's Day 2005. Chris and Renae Perry weren't celebrating at brunch with the family. They were at the hospital looking after their 5 year old son, Caleb. They weren't prepared to hear the diagnosis — Caleb had Type I Diabetes.
The symptoms were clear in hindsight, said Renae.
"The weekend before Mother's Day, we noticed Caleb was feeling bad, vomiting, going to the bathroom two or three times an hour," she recalled. "We thought he was dehydrated."
It was Chris that realized Caleb was slipping into unconsciousness. They rushed to the hospital, where the doctors immediately took Caleb back.
"They could smell the ketoacidosis," Renae said, referring to process in which high levels of acid build up in blood when the body doesn't have enough insulin.
Caleb had to stay in the Intensive Care Unit for three days.
"We were in absolute panic," Renae said. "How did we miss it? It was overwhelming to know that we had to give our 5 year old shots and that he'll have to continue that for the rest of his life."
The Perry family recently moved to Santa Rosa Beach, from Birmingham, as Chris has taken the role of senior pastor at Good News United Methodist Church.
Now 13 years old, Caleb takes his insulin shots and tracks his sugar intake, but doesn't let his diabetes control his life. He plays football, basketball, is a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo as well as practices samurai sword art.
"I can't change it," Caleb said of his diagnosis. "I try not to dwell on that. I regularly check my blood sugars. I decided I would not let diabetes stop me."
He decided to become a voice for individuals fighting the disease. Through the "Promise to Remember Me" campaign with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Caleb met with state representatives and senators to advocate for proper funding to go toward research, treatments, prevention and ultimately a cure.
"Even though there currently isn't a cure, we can continue to find one," he said.
Earlier last month from July 8-10, Caleb took his advocacy to Washington where he was chosen from 1,500 applicants to represent the state of Alabama in the JDRF Children's Congress. Caleb met with several state senators and Vice President Joe Biden. He stood up and shared his personal account of diabetes with JDRF chief scientist, Richard Insel. It was intimidating to speak to the room of strangers, but an important thing to do, Caleb said.
"I knew if I didn't do it, I would be disappointing the kids in Alabama with diabetes," he said.
According to Diabetes.org, 25.8 million Americans including children have diabetes — that's 8.3 percent of the nation's population.
Now putting down roots in his new home, Caleb wants to continue his outreach and advocacy in his new community.
"I want to continue trying to convince senators and representatives from Florida to find a cure," he said. "Insulin is not a cure. Every three seconds around the globe, someone is diagnosed with diabetes."
Caleb would also like to create a benefit walk to raise awareness towards diabetes, something he noticed Walton County was lacking.
Inspired by his endocrinologist, Dr. Abdul-Latif at the Children's Hospital in Birmingham, Caleb hopes to be an endocrinologist one day.
"I hope that by the time I'm old enough there will be a cure for diabetes," he said.
Until then, he will continue his advocacy. He will always stand up against diabetes, he said.
"My voice counts," he said. "And that's cool."