Last updated: March 18. 2014 1:40PM - 696 Views

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Paula Fairchild can relate to the tremendous impact of type 1 diabetes (T1D) - her sister and two uncles were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when Paula was a young adult, and her own daughter Emilee was diagnosed with the disease when Emilee was just 7 years old.

Nearly 26 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes (type 1 or type 2). Of that number, nearly three million of those have type 1 diabetes; and astonishingly, more than 15,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year. While you’re reading this, another child has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Specifically, Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which a person’s body still produces insulin but is unable to use it effectively.

Since her daughter’s diagnosis with T1D in 2007, Fairchild has worked with the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), and the Kentucky Chapter of JDRF. She has mentored several Kentucky families per year that have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and serves on their Board of Directors.

Fairchild has been the Government Relations and Advocacy Chair for the Kentucky chapter of JDRF since 2010. When she was invited back to Washington D.C., again this year on behalf of JDRF for their annual Government Day event, and she was happy to commit. She accepts every opportunity to be a voice for Kentuckians affected by this auto-immune disease for which there is (currently) no cure. Government Day brings advocates from all over the nation to attend legislative training sessions and connect with others affected by type 1 diabetes.

However, the most important part of the event brings the advocates to Capitol Hill to meet with their Members of Congress in support of issues concerning type 1 diabetes. Over the course of two days, Fairchild, and Kelli Hall of Prestonsburg - also the parent of a child with type one diabetes, met with all six Kentucky Representatives and both U.S. Senators. The majority of their conversations with the Members’ offices focused on the renewal of the Special Diabetes Program (SDP). The Special Diabetes Program provides $150 million to the NIH for invaluable research toward better treatments, prevention and a cure for type 1 diabetes. This program has demonstrated tangible results and has become a critical part of our nation’s federal investment in diabetes research and treatment and prevention efforts. Without renewal, this program is set to expire in September, 2014. Some of the tangible benefits of the SDP include current outpatient trials of the artificial pancreas. The Artificial Pancreas Project is expected to save Medicare $2 billion over the course of 25 years, and is funded by the Special Diabetes Program. Other research funded by the SDP has also provided advancements in the identification of triggers of this autoimmune disease, and drugs to reduce the rate of and prevention of kidney function impairment in people with type 1 diabetes. The SDP has demonstrated tangible progress in the fight to better treat and eventually cure and prevent type 1 diabetes (T1D) and is one government program that works for patients, researchers, the private sector and taxpayers. Continuing to invest in the SDP now will not only save and improve lives; it will result in significant cost savings down the road. Fairchild stressed the importance of this renewal to each of her members of Congress and their office staff.

Fairchild has now returned home from DC prepared to carry on the work she started in Washington, D.C., as the new Midwest Region Government Leadership Team member for JDRF, where she will serve as a mentor for the chapter-based Advocacy Team Chairs in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, on mission-critical activities involving advocate recruitment, mobilization, and engagement. She will continue to advocate and to encourage Congress to support the renewal of the SDP.

Fairchild is also currently organizing the 3rd annual JDRF Big Sandy Walk to Cure Diabetes for September 27, 2014, in Prestonsburg, which she hopes will continue to grow and be a successful event for eastern Kentucky families with T1D. Fairchild aspires to continue providing a sense of hope to those suffering from diabetes in Kentucky, as JDRF is continuing in their mission of creating a world without the impact of type 1 diabetes - a mission to turn type one diabetes into type none.

If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, or for more information about the SDP and JDRF, visit http:www.jdrf.org, or email paula.fairchild@bellsouth.net. Sign up to be an advocate for JDRF at www.advocacy.jdrf.org.

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