For Gabby Vinci, who will turn 14 this month, managing her Type 1 diabetes is a fact of life.
This summer brought Vinci a new experience though, as she and more than 100 other young people with Type 1 diabetes gathered in Washington, D.C., to stress the importance of research and the push for a cure.
“It was so much fun. I felt normal,” Vinci said simply. “I was with so many diabetic people and made so many new friends.”
Vinci, of Baton Rouge and Charlotte Theriot, 7, of Abita Springs, were selected from more than 20 candidates to represent Louisiana as delegates to the three-day Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Children’s Congress that was held in June.
“Hopefully, she can one day say she had diabetes,” said Michelle Theriot, the mother of Charlotte, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 2.
Among the highlights for the 150 U.S. delegates and 10 international delegates, ages 4 to 17, was a visit with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 8.
Sotomayor told the delegates that living with the autoimmune disease has given her discipline, Gabby and her mother, Jenifer Vinci, said.
In a June 22 article in USA Today that covered the event, the justice was quoted as saying that because of the self-discipline that managing the disease cultivates, “Unlike other people, I actually pay attention to my body.”
The Children’s Congress delegates also heard from a panel of celebrities, each living with Type 1 diabetes: professional LPGA golfer Carling Coffing, “Amazing Race” winner Dr. Nat Strand, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Gary Hall and NFL Super Bowl champion Kendall Simmons.
Another highlight was the chance for the children and teens to sing with Crystal Bowersox, a runnerup in “American Idol,” who also has Type 1 diabetes.
The main work of the delegates, however, was to meet with their elected officials to tell about life with the disease and to ask for continued funding for research.
“I think it makes a huge impact” on research, said Danielle Claudet, development manager of the Louisiana Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“It’s very empowering to have this many children there who are living with juvenile diabetes — 150 children and their families” with the message, “‘We’re out there; we need your help,’” Claudet said.
Type 1 or juvenile diabetes usually strikes in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood and is a lifelong condition, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The disease causes the pancreas to stop producing the hormone called insulin that enables the body to get energy from food.
Without it, people with Type 1 diabetes must take multiple injections of insulin daily or continually infuse insulin through a pump, according to the foundation.
They must also regularly test their blood sugar levels by pricking their fingers for a blood sample, several times a day.
Gabby Vinci, who will be in the ninth grade at Episcopal High next year, cheered with the school’s pep squad last year and will play on the school’s volleyball team in the coming year.
She’s lived with Type 1 diabetes practically her whole life and has become adept at testing her blood sugar level with a finger prick about 10 times a day.
If her blood sugar is low, she’ll need a snack or some juice and, beforehand, feels “really dizzy and like I don’t want to do anything,” said Vinci, whose father is Dr. Baker Vinci, a local oral surgeon.
If Gabby Vinci’s blood sugar is too high, she’ll feel nauseated and will need insulin, she said.
She has to test her blood sugar level at meal times and school lunch is no exception, Vinci said.
She said her friends have learned a lot about Type 1 diabetes and its treatment.
“They help me,” she said.
“When I was little, one of my best friends was my ‘nurse,’” Vinci said, smiling.
She’s been active with the Louisiana Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation since she was a toddler.
When Vinci was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 18 months, she was one of the youngest children in Baton Rouge known to have the autoimmune disorder, said Gabby’s mother, Jenifer Vinci.
“I was scared,” Jenifer Vinci said. She went in search of people, in addition to medical professionals, who could give her support and information.
“Slowly, I started meeting people with a shared concern about juvenile diabetes,” Jenifer Vinci said.
About 10 years ago, she and other volunteers helped found the Louisiana Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The state chapter’s signature fundraiser is its “Annual Walk to Cure Diabetes” held every October.
Gabby Vinci started participating in the events with a team when she was 2, her mother said.
“We would pull a wagon, and her friends would come,” Jenifer Vinci said.
Over about 10 years, “Gabby’s Gang,” as her team is called, has raised more than $80,000 toward research for Type 1 diabetes, Jenifer Vinci said.
Gabby Vinci and Charlotte Theriot, who will be a third-grader at Abita Springs Elementary next school year, were selected from Louisiana to attend the recent Children’s Congress on the basis of letters they wrote and videos they made to encourage continued funding for research.
Some of the newest research involves something called an artificial pancreas that would combine a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump.
It would be able to provide the person with Type 1 diabetes with just the right amount of insulin, when it was needed, according to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
In Washington, the delegates and their families learned that the federal Food and Drug Administration will begin trials of the device in December 2011.
It’s not a cure, but it would be a big help in managing the disease, said Jenifer Vinci.
Michelle Theriot said it was a bittersweet moment for her recently when her daughter Charlotte heard about the artificial pancreas and asked her, “Mommy, do you think I can get one for Christmas?”
Michelle Theriot said she told her it might take a little bit more time but it looked very, very promising.