Michaels, rocker and spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association talks to Parents.com about raising a daughter with borderline diabetes and diabetes awareness.
Bret Michaels and Family
Credit: Courtesy of Bret Michaels

The American Diabetes Association named Bret Michaels, a type 1 diabetic, its spokesperson after he won the charity $250,000 on The Celebrity Apprentice, a reality television show. Michaels, best known as the lead singer of 80s hair band Poison and his reality television shows, has two daughters, Raine, 10, and Jorja, 5, with girlfriend Kristi Lynn Gibson. The Michaels family had medical setbacks this past spring when Bret suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and Raine was diagnosed with prediabetes or borderline diabetes.

Michaels raises awareness for his cause in many ways, including a diabetes walk, his reality TV show Life As I Know It on VH1, and visits to hospitals and camps to talk to kids with diabetes and their parents. He's raised nearly $400,000 for the cause.

Parents: What was it like as a child growing up with diabetes?

Bret Michaels: No doubt when I got diagnosed at 6 I was really, really sick. I was going into ketoacidosis and it was a pretty scary time of my life, but I was so young so even when I was in the hospital I was totally having fun.

My parents were fantastic at that time in my life. They both learned how to give me injections and I learned to give myself shots. It's the first time in my life I've ever seen my dad actually cry--where he lost it and walked out of the room and came back composed. It was one of those times in my life where my parents taught me OK doesn't work--we're gonna learn how you deal with this and how you can continue to have a great life; meaning they knew I was active, so they said you're going to have work harder than a lot other people, having this, and in some strange way diabetes was both a blessing and a curse.

Parents: How was it a blessing?

Bret Michaels: Well, I think it was a blessing because it helped me in this sense: it really gave me a sense of self--the way my parents taught me, a sense of self-confidence, to be aware of my body, to know what's going on with my body, to be able to know that eating right and exercising and all that stuff would play a big factor in my life--and a life or death factor in my life. It really upped my game and made me pretty mature at a young age, but then I think in the long run it built my character.

Parents: How did you explain diabetes and how you take care of yourself to your daughters? Were you upfront with them?

Bret Michaels: From the time they were three or four my little girls have tested my blood. They helped me draw my insulin in a syringe and sometimes they'll give me a shot, but most times they help me put the insulin in and I tell them not to be scared of it. I said, "Listen, if it ever happens to you, I've lived a long life and we're going to live a lot longer."

Parents: Do you think it was easier for Raine when she was diagnosed with borderline diabetes because she's seen you go through it, rather than to have it be something foreign to her?

Bret Michaels: When she was diagnosed with borderline diabetes at first she was really upset.

The reason I lost myself on The Celebrity Apprentice was because she got on the phone and said, "Dad, I don't want to take shots." She's scared to death of (taking) shots. And so she was really upset, which made me really upset. In some weird genetic way, I felt that I was to blame and I was very exhausted doing The Celebrity Apprentice so it was kind of a breakdown--it was like the perfect storm that happened to me when I lost it that day. I was tired, I was hungry, my daughter was now diagnosed with borderline diabetes and then her crying on the phone about taking shots--as a parent it was extremely a very painful day.

We're battling it with diet right now and we're hoping that eventually when she gets in her teen years she doesn't develop type 1 diabetes.

Parents: As a parent, when you found out that Raine was borderline, what resources did you turn to help both you and Raine?

Bret Michaels: I've had it my whole life, so all of our resources are self contained. We have everything at the house to check blood, check urine, everything I would need as part of my daily life. We just talked to doctors who are friends of ours about it and a dietician.

I take Raine to the Phoenix Children's Hospital to the ward where they work with diabetic kids, we meet diabetic kids at camps. Eventually if she becomes a Type 1 full-blown Diabetic then she'll go to camp and be around other kids that have it and more than likely she'll go to the pump or the Omnipen. I think the pump would be much better for her at this age and not have to take the injections.

Parents: Are there any low-carb, low-sugar recipes or snacks that you guys have discovered that Raine likes?

Bret Michaels: We barbeque a lot. Most of the stuff we eat is salad, vegetables... whatever we do most everything is lean meat.

Parents: You were able to help Raine because you're diabetic yourself, but what advice would you give to non-diabetic parents who have kids in a similar situation?

Bret Michaels: At first it's devastating. There is no doubt you have to get through the shock period of it, then you accept it and you have to adjust with the fact that this is the card you are dealt. And that doesn't mean it's supposed to be easy. It's not. It wasn't easy for my parents, but this is the card you are dealt and you love your child unconditionally. I love my kids and I will find a way and custom build that way around my family to make them really secure and still live their dreams and just know that they're going to have to work just a little bit harder at it.

There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being the parent of a diabetic child. You're worried about their health, there are finances involved, there's a lot of stuff. That's what I raise a lot of money for, that's what the ADA and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation are there for. Find a group a support group and get involved immediately.

Parents: How are you doing now?

Bret Michaels: All things considered, this year has been the best highs professionally and the biggest lows medically speaking. I'm feeling 80% and then I get my heart operation in January to close the Patent Foramen Ovale, or hole, in my heart, and I think after that I'm going to feel really good again.

Parents: Anything else you'd like to tell other parents?

Bret Michaels: As parents there is no doubt our lives have to be custom built to fit our lifestyle, there's no one family that has exactly the same thing as another and I just think my key thing is find a way. Don't get caught up in the Joneses, find a way that works for your family and especially (if your child is) diagnosed with diabetes, find a support group.

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