Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Kyle Melton, 4, looks up at his mother, Lauren, as she checks his insulin on Tuesday afternoon at their Loganville home. Kyle has Type-1 diabetes, which means his immune system attacked his pancreas and he can no longer produce his own insulin.
LOGANVILLE -- Four-year-old Kyle Melton stands curiously on his tiptoes, peering over the edge of a kitchen counter as his big blue eyes grow even larger from the strain.
Finally having seen the reading, he contently drops back onto his heels.
"Pretty good," he says matter-of-factly, with the slight Southern twang of his parents.
The reading is on a blood glucose meter, the result of as many as eight finger pricks for the day. Kyle, with a healthy crop of blond hair and a slightly mischievous smile, was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes exactly 26 months prior to this day.
He romps around the backyard of his Loganville home -- one littered with wiffle balls, golf clubs, football gear and a pair of soccer nets -- with his always-present insulin pump tagging along. He swings and misses a few times as his aunt tosses him balls, blushing with the frustration of a youngster trying to show off for new friends.
Most of the time, he's just like any other kid.
"After he was diagnosed, I immediately said, 'We're not going to be a victim to this disease,'" his mother Lauren says.
On Monday, Kyle and family will fly to Washington, D.C., as "delegates" in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's children's congress.
Along with 150 other kids and families from across the country, the Meltons will attend a congressional hearing, speak with legislators and even perform a song with Crystal Bowersox, the dreadlocked "American Idol" star recently diagnosed with diabetes.
It's a trip that draws the double-fisted "rock on" symbol from Kyle (hands up, index and pinky fingers extended), and one aimed at helping the JDRF stump for continued funding for diabetes research, the development of the artificial pancreas and the Special Diabetes Program.
"As much of an honor as this is, we're going to work," Lauren Melton says. "So that when it comes to vote for funding, they'll remember this precious little face. It's hard to say no to that."
Kyle's brand of the disease, an autoimmune one, can be life-threatening. Essentially, Type-1 diabetes means that his immune system saw the beta cells in his pancreas -- where insulin is made -- as a threat. It attacked, killed it, and his body no longer produces insulin.
As Kyle puts it, his pancreas is broken.
"The way I'd rather him understand it is you die without water, you would die without food, and you have to have insulin, too," his mom says. "So he will always get water, and he will always get food and he will always get insulin."
"Isn't that right dude?" she adds with a loving tousle of his hair.
"Mmhmm," Kyle agrees.
After two years of receiving multiple shots a day, the youngster now has a built-in port that pumps insulin into his body 24/7. The lifeline rests around his waist in carrying cases bearing the likenesses of Mickey Mouse, Buzz Lightyear and Batman. He's named it "Lyle Pyle," simply because it rhymes with his own name.
"It's an extension of his body," Lauren Melton says. "It's like an arm or a leg."
The early symptoms of Type-1 diabetes, Lauren Melton warns, are easily dismissed, especially in children -- drinking a lot, using the restroom a lot, fruity breath.
According to the JDRF, 35 Georgia children are diagnosed with the disease each month. Across the country, more than 15,000 are diagnosed each year.
When Kyle went into diabetic ketoacidosis at age 2, he was rushed to Children's Healthcare in Atlanta, where he spent a few days as his parents learned "how to keep him alive."
That includes the "impossible" task of keeping his blood sugar in check, counting French fries and chicken nuggets to track his diet and frequent trips to the endocrinologist.
He has to wear shoes at all times when he goes outside.
That aside, "he's so normal," his aunt, Carrie Ingram, says. "He likes to tackle and play rough and tumble and beat up on his little brother and get in trouble for it."
Kyle is very excited about his upcoming flight to Washington: "I'm sure it's going to be very fun." Lauren Melton, however, is "terrified of flying."
When they get there, they'll meet celebrity supporters like Mary Tyler Moore and Kevin Kline, and help put a face on the JDRF's "Promise to Remember Me" campaign.
Kyle's adorable mug and outgoing nature will no doubt stick in the minds of legislators. It is another image, though, that drove his mother to get involved -- the one of Kyle in the hospital, unable to walk, unable to talk, eyes sunken into the back of his head.
"He will always be insulin-dependent, until we find that cure," Lauren Melton says. "It's going to happen. Momma's sure of it."