Thursday, April 24, 2014

16th Annual Mid-Ohio JDRF Promise Ball to Raise Money for Type 1 Diabetes Research

Former Congressman, Zachary T. Space, 
is this year's honoree at the Promise Ball.
JDRF is a global organization which funds innovative research on type 1 diabetes. I was recently contacted by the Mid-Ohio Chapter of JDRF to see if I would be interested in interviewing the JDRF 2014 Promise Ball honoree and his son, Zachary and Nicholas Space. I'm glad to have this opportunity to learn more about JDRF.

Let's backtrack a little bit though. What is diabetes? I'm sure for most of us, if you don't have the disease yourself or have a close family member or friend with it, you don't give it much thought. A few terms might be familiar, like blood glucose and insulin. Let's fix that, together. 

Diabetes, or, diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease which results in the patient having high blood sugar. Diabetes is caused by the body not producing enough insulin or by the body not using insulin correctly. 

There are three types of diabetes: 

  • Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin. Patients with T1D are insulin dependent and have to monitor their diet, exercise and stress levels to manage their blood sugar.
  • Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) results from the body becoming resistant to its own insulin. T2D can be managed and even reversed with proper diet and exercise. 
  • Gestational Diabetes occurs in pregnant women when they develop a high blood glucose level. 

All three types of diabetes can lead to complications, even with proper medical care and management of the disease. As of 2013, approximately 382 million people in the world have diabetes. In 2008, diabetes was the 8th leading cause of death worldwide. 

I myself do not have diabetes, but it has touched my family. My mom had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with me. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, which fortunately is what happened in my mom's case. Unfortunately, having had gestational diabetes puts both my mom and myself at risk for developing some form of diabetes in the future.

Kenneth's Aunt Shellie has type 1 diabetes, which she was diagnosed with at age 21. She has suffered many complications due to her diabetes, including hospitalization in recent years. I hope that the research being funded by JDRF will be able to help Shellie, and my mom and I should we ever need it.

JDRF is the leading global organization funding research to improve the lives of those diagnosed with T1D. JDRF wants to create a world without Type 1 Diabetes. Some of the amazing technologies JDRF is funding include (click each technology for an informative video from JDRF):

If and when these projects are complete, they can help JDRF in their mission to "Turn Type One into Type None."

Zachary Space, former Congressman from Ohio, has been an advocate for diabetes research since his son, Nicholas, was diagnosed in 1996 at the age of 6. Nicholas, now 24, has learned to manage his T1D through elementary school and all the way to college. I recently interviewed Zach and Nicholas via email.

Q - How did Nicholas' T1D affect his time at school, with after school activities and sports? Were teachers, coaches and other parents knowledgeable about diabetes? Were there any changes in the ease of managing Nicholas' T1D as he got older and moved on to middle, high school and college? 

A - The teachers, administration and coaches throughout Nick’s school years were helpful in providing Nick with the ability to monitor his disease. However, most knew very little about it, and like his parents, had to learn more about the need to test, dietary restrictions, and how to tell when he was going low. As he grew older, throughout his school years, Nick assumed more responsibility for his own care. Getting the insulin pump was very helpful, and allowed him more flexibility in his diet, while avoiding the need to take multiple injections each day. Going away to college is challenging for all Type I diabetics (and for all parents of Type I diabetics who leave home for the first time!), and Nick was no exception. But he has learned to better control his blood levels, and is now pretty much independent in his monitoring activities. Nicholas played football in High School and managed just fine. (He would take his pump off before games, and put it back on immediately afterward.) 

Q - What research and developments coming out of JDRF is Nicholas most excited/hopeful about? 

A - Nick is very excited about the progress made toward blending continuous glucose monitoring technology with the insulin pump. The so called “artificial pancreas” (or “closed loop system”), when commercially available, will allow him to live like everyone else—with certain restrictions that will include regular changing of the device (every three days or so), and the need to test independent of the system to make sure it is properly calibrated. And we are all hopeful that this technology will become available as soon as possible so as to mitigate—even avoid altogether—the complications that so many diabetics suffer. The artificial pancreas is currently going through rigorous and time-consuming FDA trials. We also see great hope in islet cell therapy that could, potentially, bring a long-term, permanent cure for Type I diabetes. 

Q - Does T1D affect Nicholas' day to day life today as much as it did ten years ago? 

A - Yes, it does. From a physical perspective, he is still totally reliant on his pump to deliver insulin; and he must test his blood levels multiple times per day. We still worry every day about the potential complications of diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that you cannot run from. It is always there, and as such, to properly manage it, you must always be mindful of it.

Q - Does Zachary feel that his colleagues in Congress were knowledgeable about diabetes? How can the average person raise awareness about diabetes and diabetes research? 

A - The average member of Congress still needs to know more about diabetes. I did as much as I could do while in Congress to increase awareness, and I believe that the average member of Congress knows more about it than they did a few years ago. But, unfortunately, it seems that the only members who know a lot about the disease are those who have a loved one with diabetes. It is important for Congress to understand the disease, and the human suffering it causes. But it is also important for Congress to understand the COST of the disease; and the fact that we are really getting close to a cure—at least an “artificial” cure (through the development of the closed loop system—that would, in the end, save tax payers countless billions of dollars). The average person can raise awareness by contacting their member of Congress and their US Senators—call, write a letter or an email, go to Washington and visit with them. Having spent four years in Washington, I know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Good congressmen will care about this issue if they know their constituents care. Make yourself heard! 

Zachary will be honored for his years spent advocating for those with diabetes at the 2014 Mid-Ohio JDRF Promise Ball. The Ball will be held at the Archie Griffin Ballroom at the Ohio Union on Saturday, May 10th. Learn more about the Mid-Ohio Chapter of JDRF by visiting their website. You can purchase tickets for the 2014 Promise Ball here.