WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — He just wanted to live a normal life.

But with a mix of disabilities and health issues that plagued him since he was a toddler, that was impossible for Kameron Frisinger.

Frisinger was 2 1/2 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He was about 8 years old when doctors determined he also had attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia. Later, his doctors diagnosed a neurological development delay, which meant that even when he was in his early 20s, he had the decision-making abilities and maturity of a 14-year-old.

"Kameron was dealt a crappy hand," said his mother, Kerri Frisinger, 51. "It was the constant chasing the tail of the diabetes, the ADD and other problems. ... He couldn't get his sugar under control until he got the ADD under control. He couldn't get the ADD under control until he got his blood sugars under control."

The combination was a lethal Catch-22, and it ended in tragedy. Frisinger died from complications of diabetes in his Wausau apartment on May 27. He was 22 years old, the Wausau Daily Herald reported.

Frisinger's short life was difficult. He had a rocky — though loving — relationship with his parents, who were compelled to constantly push him to stay on top of his diabetes treatment. He often fell into deep, isolating depressions. He had brushes with the law for offenses such as shoplifting. He had trouble in school, often skipping out and ending up in truancy court.

The truancy trouble might just have been the best thing to happen to Frisinger, "a blessing in disguise," his mom believes. It set the stage for a lasting friendship that would have a deep and positive impact on him and his family.

Kou Xiong was a social worker who had a knack for helping truant students get back in school. He was assigned to Frisinger, and he found a way to connect with the boy like no other person could. Their friendship would help set the stage for two of Frisinger's most significant victories in life, graduating from high school and living on his own.

"I think deep down inside, he was like a little brother to me," Xiong said. "That's what motivated me to help him. I told him many times, this is not like an ordinary client relationship."

When he was in his early 20s, Xiong was an unlikely person to work with truant students. He's 33 years old now, and he currently works with people who need help living on their own. But when he started his career, his focus was on troubled youths who didn't want to go to school. At the time, Xiong was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his own life.

"I actually don't have an educational background that pertains to all of this," he said.

As a teenager, Xiong made "a lot of mistakes." He said a "bad life" came close to consuming him. He was in a gang. He was not getting along with his parents. He was angry, and prone to violence. He was expelled from Wausau West High School for fighting.

He knew the gangster-style life wasn't him. "I wanted to walk a different path," he said.

So Xiong straightened out, went to school at Northcentral Technical College and earned an associate's degree in supervisory management.

Xiong was working at McDonald's and attending school at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point studying social work when a friend suggested he apply for a job with Mirror Image Supervision Services. The company contracts with Marathon County to work with habitual truants, delinquents and other at-risk youths.

"I always wanted to to help people. That's a big passion of mine," Xiong said. "Ever since I was a little kid I always put other people first."

So he applied. He impressed the company and was hired. He quickly found that he had a knack for connecting with surly teens.

"Every single one of these clients or kids have come from a background or gone through some traumatic experience in their life," Xiong said. "And I had the experience in how to relate to them."

He found that the best approach in dealing with these kids was to listen. "It was just getting to know them and learning about them as a person," he said. "And once I really understood them, I was able to relate to them emotionally."

Frisinger was about 14 years old when Xiong first met him.

Xiong listened, and learned Frisinger's problems were unlike any of his other clients'.

"A big part of Frisinger was that his diabetes affected everything. Frisinger had been battling that for a long time," Xiong said. "I was like, this is totally new, because I don't know anything about diabetes. I don't know how it works."

So he took a deep dive into Type 1 diabetes. "I learned how the numbers work, and the (blood sugar) levels (Frisinger) had to be at. And I learned about the highs and lows."

He learned that Frisinger would get angry and upset when his blood sugars were too low or too high. The teen didn't like anyone telling him what to do, and after years of hearing his parents stress how important it was for him to keep his blood sugar levels in check, he was tuning them out. He also had a group of friends who would often steer him in the wrong direction, leading to the truancy and other tangles with the law.

Xiong also found that Frisinger struggled with typical problems for someone his age: keeping up with homework, acne breaXiongts and wanting to find a girlfriend.

"I think he was trying to find his place in the world," Xiong said.

Xiong, the son of Hmong immigrants, knew the feeling. He had trouble with acne, too. He understood what it was like to chafe at parental expectations. Gradually, he developed a trusting relationship with Frisinger. And he got to know Frisinger's mom, Kerri, and her husband, Kirk. Often when Frisinger shut them out, he would listen to Xiong.

After about a year, Xiong's truancy work with Frisinger was done, and the two went their separate ways.

"We didn't really keep in contact," Xiong said. "But I went to the school a lot and would see him, and check in."

Frisinger continued to struggle to take care of himself and his diabetes. He struggled in school. He struggled with friendships and his relationship with his parents.

But he kept trying to get his health on track, get through school, Kerri said. She worked closely with teachers and administrators at Wausau West High School to keep him on a path toward graduation. At first they worked to get him in mainstream classes, to give him as "normal" of a school experience as possible.

But even Frisinger understood that being around other kids didn't work for him. He would get too distracted. So arrangements were made to allow him to study more independently on his own. That worked. It wasn't easy, but Frisinger studied hard and learned and moved forward.

Frisinger cleared a major hurdle when he graduated a year early at age 17. It was one of the happiest days of his life.

He then turned his attention to another goal: living on his own. The idea worried Kerri and Kirk, because with school out of the picture, Frisinger seemed to lose focus and drive.

"Actually after he got out of high school, that's when he got lazy (regarding self care)," Kerri said. "And at that point, it was just the depression. He was dealing with depression."

Kerri also lost a support team, the educators at Wausau West. They understood Frisinger, she said, and helped her negotiate through unique challenges of raising a kid like him. Now that was gone. She tried to find help for her son. But because he was an adult, she found nothing but closed doors.

By the time Frisinger was 18, he could essentially do as he pleased. Or conversely, Kerri and Kirk could go through a legal process in which Frisinger would become a ward of the state, and he would lose his ability to make decisions for himself. There seemed to be no midpoint.

Kerri kept trying to find the help Frisinger needed, and her perseverance paid off. Finally, she spoke with an adviser at the Aging and Disability Resource Center who suggested that Frisinger be tested again for cognitive disabilities. Frisinger received a new diagnosis of neurological development delay, opening the door for him to get more help as an adult.

Frisinger was finally able to move into an apartment. The Frisingers received help through Pastika Independent Living Services, Inclusa and Mirror Image, the company that Xiong Xiong still worked for, and Xiong once again began to counsel Frisinger.

"It was like I never left," Xiong said.

Even in the face of his own problems, Frisinger was a giving, caring person, Xiong said.

They were on a field trip at the Iola Car Show with some of Xiong's other clients. One of the guys in the group also had diabetes, and went into hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Frisinger instantly became a caregiver.

He made sure the other client got into the shade. He went and bought the guy a juice. He took care of things.

"He went into Superman mode," Xiong said. "He was like, 'Xiong, you gotta do this. He needs this.' ... Kameron just got him everything he needed, and the client was OK after that."

Frisinger and Xiong became even closer as Xiong helped the young man learn about the nuances of living on his own. "I was his friend that he could count on," Xiong said. "We just connected in a way where I can't really explain it. We just understood each other so well."

Frisinger was thinking about the future, maybe even following in Xiong's footsteps to work at helping others. "He wanted to get a job where he could help people like himself to overcome things," Xiong said.

Frisinger's relationship with his mother improved. They still spent a lot of time together, doing things like grocery shopping or other errands.

"We started connecting as an adult child and a parent," Kerri said, "instead of me telling him what to do all the time. ... In our heart of hearts, we truly believed that Frisinger was going to be a productive member of society, and that's what we were striving for. ... But he needed a lot of guidance and a lot of help to get there. And it was going to take time. But I didn't think his body was going to hold out. And that's exactly what happened."

Xiong was the last person to see Frisinger alive.

The two had gone grocery shopping on May 24, the Friday just before the Memorial Day weekend. They went to Wal-Mart and bought bags of fruit, watermelon, grapes, strawberries, raspberries.

"Kameron loved fruit salad," Xiong said. "But he never made one for himself."

Xiong was walking Frisinger through the process.

"He does not know how to cut a cantaloupe," Xiong said. "He's like, 'Xiong, where do I begin, what do I do?" And I'm like, 'All right, buddy, I'm going to walk you through this.'"

He showed Frisinger how to cut the melon in half, then into slices. He demonstrated how to cut the rind off without cutting into his hand. Then Frisinger did it.

"He's looking at me and smiling, and said, 'Xiong, I never cut one of those before. I just did it. I'm so proud of myself.' We were laughing and giggling. He was so happy that day."

Frisinger died two days later, on Memorial Day.

Xiong, Kerri and all the others who loved Frisinger are still grieving. Kerri is seeing a grief counselor; but there are days when she thinks of Frisinger and the sadness just seems to crush her. She takes comfort in the fact that Frisinger accomplished his goal of living by himself, and was making strides in overcoming the emotional and mental hurdles placed in front of him.

Xiong cherishes his time with Frisinger. The young man's influence and inspiration helped Xiong start his own agency, Reflective Choices, shortly before Frisinger died.

And Frisinger taught him how to "value life. Value every second of your life. ... There's not enough caring and loving going on in this world," Xiong said. "It motivates me to keep moving forward, to keep helping clients, and keep doing what I did for Kameron."


Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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