LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When 16-year-old Ryan Symens was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last month, he was forced to trade in candy and cupcakes for bottles of insulin and packages of needles.
The sophomore at Bradenton Christian School said he tries to lead a normal teenage life -- or as much of one as his body will allow.
That's why he went to see the new action-adventure flick "Divergent" with friends Saturday afternoon at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas after they had just completed the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes on Main Street with the
school Key Club.
Ryan was stopped inside the theater lobby after buying a ticket. A manager asked what was in the brown leather backpack slung over his shoulder.
The backpack contained testing equipment, glucose tablets, insulin, an emergency injection called Glucagon and a pack of Kleenex. Also, two 4-ounce boxes of Juicy Juice and two OhYeah! protein bars -- snacks that could stop the boy from experiencing a seizure.
Snacks that could mean the difference between life and death.
According to Ryan, the manager said he could not bring in the bag and had to purchase all food and drink at the concession stand, then pointed to a sign bearing the rule.
"I told him I was recently diagnosed (March 7) with diabetes and this was my emergency bag," said Ryan.
The manager wouldn't budge. It wouldn't be fair to other guests, he said.
"I told him that it's not going to be fair if I have to go into a diabetic crisis and I don't have my supplies on me because I didn't choose to be a diabetic. It was something that just happened," Ryan said Monday at the kitchen table of his Mill Creek home.
The manager then told him to go to another theater if he couldn't follow the rules. The rest of his friends -- one boy and a few girls with purses -- were allegedly not asked to show the contents of their bags.
Not wanting to give up plans with his friends, Ryan removed his testing equipment and injection supplies and handed over the bag and snacks to the manager. Ryan bought a big bottle of apple juice and went to see the movie. Lakewood Ranch Cinemas does not sell protein bars.
"Those juice boxes are perfectly designed for Ryan," said his mother, Krista Symens. "Ryan knows that's a 4-ounce juice box and he knows exactly what that does to his blood sugar."
The juice box, containing 15 grams of carbohydrates, and the protein bar, containing 31 grams of carbs, has the perfect balance of sugars and carbs to stabilize Ryan's blood sugar. Concession stand juices, sodas or candy bars are much harder to measure and can be ineffective in a diabetic episode.
"The juice is very short acting and if you don't follow that up with a protein bar that has a mix of carbs and sugars, you're basically going to go straight up and straight down, said Chad Symens, Ryan's father.
Theater officials later were apologetic about the incident and said they would revisit the policy for patrons with medical conditions.
"Apparently the person who stopped him may have not been sensitive," said Nick Caras, managing director of the theater. "Obviously a diabetic situation is a medical issue that needs specific handling.
"We try to discourage people from bringing in food and beverage. After all, we are a movie theater and our profits come through concessions," he added.
Donna Arakel, a parent of one of the students seeing the movie with Ryan, approached the manager afterward and received the same response.
"I was totally freaked out. My hands were shaking," she said. "This is not sneaking food in your bag. It's medically necessary for him."
Caras said Monday afternoon he would try to meet the boy's father in-person.
Barbara Caras, executive director of Sarasota Film Society, which oversees the movie theater, emailed Chad Symens Monday night.
"To prevent this from occurring again, the individuals have been spoken to and made aware of their mishandling of a very delicate situation," she wrote.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.