Unexpected gift from ESPN star boosts fundraiser for 10-year-old with type 1 diabetes

10-year-old Aydan Vaughn. Photo provided by the Vaughn family.

Saturday morning at Spirit Communications Park, hundreds of people will take part in the annual JDRF One Walk, with a goal of raising $185,000 for research devoted to curing type 1 diabetes and developing ways to make life easier for those fighting it until there is a cure.

One of the largest groups in the walk will be ACV Kickin’ T1D, supporting 10-year-old Aydan Vaughn and organized by her family, led by her father, Matt. The team has led the Columbia walk in fundraising all three years of its existence, but Matt Vaughn says the goal is raising awareness as much as money.

“To me this is Aydan’s event. This is for her to see that people are there to support her and people understand what she’s going through,” he said. “This is more than just a fundraising thing. More than anything, I’m big on education. I hate the stereotypes.”

Diagnosed in 2016 shortly before her eighth birthday, Aydan has already had to deal with many people who believe the stereotypes. Contrary to those myths, type 1 diabetes has absolutely nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, and strikes both children and adults without warning.

“It was kind of a turn your world upside down kind of thing,” Vaughn said of Aydan’s diagnosis. He adds that his daughter has adjusted well, and when friends ask her why she has to check her levels or inject herself, “She bluntly tells them ‘So I can stay alive.'”

The Vaughn family connected with the JDRF Palmetto Chapter almost immediately after Aydan’s diagnosis, and began working to support the cause immediately. Though the news came only about two months before the 2016 One Walk, Team ACV Kickin’ T1D formed quickly and sprang into action, raising more than $18,000 in that short time.

“We don’t really do anything halfway,” Vaugnn says. “To me it’s fairly easy. You tell your story, and people can connect to my kid more than anything. Connection is what draws people to understand that $25, $30, $50, $100 isn’t really that big a deal compared to what she’s doing every day.”

Vaughn, vice president of sales and marketing at Signarama, said he has called on family, friends and business associates for support, and all have answered the call.

“Some years you get stuff from people you can count on, and other years you get completely blindsided by somebody who just steps up and does something you weren’t expecting,” he said. This year, one of those unexpected supporters was brought to the team by a Halloween costume.

Vaughn, who bears some physical resemblance to ESPN Sportscenter host Scott Van Pelt, created a wearable desk and dressed as the journalist (known to fans as SVP) in 2016, and caught the attention of the man himself via social media. Van Pelt featured Vaughn’s photo on Sportscenter and jokingly said “a prize” would be coming Vaughn’s way.

This year, with fundraising for the walk again in full swing, Vaughn remembered the moment and took to Twitter again, reminding Van Pelt of the prize offer and asking for a donation to Aydan’s team. The answer came quickly, and was more than anyone expected.

“Matt, you were $985 short of your goal. Now you aren’t. Good luck with this and my best to your daughter,” Van Pelt replied via Twitter, and his donation of $985 came through. Perhaps just as important, the journalist’s fame led to a big boost in awareness, with more than 230,000 people viewing the tweet, and many replying to add their support and empathy.

After Matt’s wife, Lindsay, tweeted to add her own thanks, Van Pelt replied to say “You have a beautiful family. I know you have great faith as well. Trust in that and know I’m in your corner. Thoughts and prayers are good. So is some money to help the fight. I can share both.”

Support also came from former UGA and NFL star David Pollack and from Adam Duvall of the Atlanta Braves (Duvall is fighting type 1 himself), both friends of friends of the Vaughns, who are not the least bit shy about asking anyone.

“I’m always trying to think of creative ways to reach out to people,” Matt Vaughn said, adding that those gestures also lead to increased awareness. “Anybody that wants to talk to me about it, I’ll talk about it. It’s all about education and awareness.”

That willingness to share is a key part of JDRF, which is not only a fundraising organization but also a community, ready to offer whatever resources and help are needed to type 1 patients and their families.

“If there’s a family that’s diagnosed and they feel lost or uncomfortable or like they’re doing this alone, we’ll talk to them,” said Matt Vaughn, who now serves on the board for the JRDF Palmetto Chapter. “There are people out there who will help you. We have firsts happen all the time. You have a resource, a network of people that have your back.”

“It’s not easy. It’s not fun. It’s not cheap,” he adds. “Even when you have insurance, it’s hard to provide Aydan with all the things that would make her life easier.”

To make life easier is the best the Vaughns and all the other friends and families of those fighting type 1 can do for now, but with events like One Walk, the breakthrough that makes the disease a thing of the past draws closer and closer.

More information on type 1, the effort to cure it and resources available to those dealing with it is available at jdrf.org. Last minute donors and participants are welcome to join in Saturday’s One Walk, and more information on the event is also available online.

Categories: Columbia, Richland County