Seventeen-year-old Manhattan Beach resident and rising Vistamar senior Grace Walker is gearing up for big summer plans. She is one of 160 youth across the nation selected to advocate for Type 1 diabetes research in front of U.S. Congress.
She is representing the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation during her trip July 13-15 to Washington, D.C. Walker lives daily with Type 1 diabetes and is fighting for financial support from Congress to help find a cure.
Walker has volunteered in the office of JDRF and has participated in the nonprofit's annual “Walk for a Cure” 10 years before she was even diagnosed. She was supporting her brother, Ryan Walker, who was diagnosed first. She received her diagnosis when she was 12, and now it's a part of her redefined “normal”teenage life.
“It's something that doesn't go away,” she said. “I have to test my blood sugar five to six times per day and take shots. People look at you weird when you're out with friends at a restaurant and they see me give myself a shot in the arm.
“This impacts my life on all levels.”
Unlike Type 2 diabetes, the cause of Type 1 is still unknown. Her mother, Laura Mecoy said researchers believe there is either a genetic or environmental component that causes this auto immune disease's onset.
Basically, with Type 1 diabetes, the body stops producing insulin which prevents it from producing energy. Left untreated. It can lead to death.
“If you don't manage it properly through insulin shots, it can lead to heart and other major complications,” Mecoy said.
While strides have been made that may someday lead to a cure, Walker said, it's imperative that Congress continue supporting research.
“The sad thing is people still die from this disease,” she said. “A close friend died from complications at age 22.”
Walker said that Congress provided $150 million two years ago, specifically for Type 1 research.
“That was a big boost,” Walker said. “I hope that when they hear from me and other kids who live with this disease that they will understand how important their support is to us.”
These youth who have been selected are 4 to 17 years old and represent all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Joining them will be six international delegates traveling from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. These international delegates will partner with U.S. delegates to convey a clear message to the federal government that Type 1 diabetes requires a global effort.
The event, which is held every other summer, will include congressional visits by the delegates and a congressional committee hearing, during which selected delegates and celebrity advocates will testify.
“These outstanding children and their families all understand, as I do as a father of a loved one with Type 1 diabetes, that T1D tests us every day,” said Derek Rapp, JDRF President and CEO. “Children’s Congress gives all of us one voice to urge Congress to maintain its commitment to supporting research, which is essential to reducing the burden of this disease on us and on our country.”
Walker plans to help mentor other kids with Type 1 diabetes this summer at Camp Conrad–Chinnock. She volunteers with the JDRF Gala and has interned in the JDRF Los Angeles Chapter. A talented singer and actress, she has even depicted someone living with the disease on Vistamar School’s stage as Shelby in the play, “Steel Magnolias.”
“I strived to accurately portray her disease in the play,” she said. “It was important for the audience to understand those symptoms more accurate than they were portrayed in the movie.”
As she makes plans for her future, Walker said she will continue to be an advocate for both children and adults living with Type 1 diabetes.