In today's political climate in Washington, D.C., it's amazing there would be bi-partisan support for anything, from the Affordable Health Care act, also known as Obamacare, to who's paying for late night pizza. Filibustering might be involved in that item.
But in recent years, both sides of the aisle in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have come together on at least one issue: funding the Special Diabetes Program that finances the National Institutes of Health's continuing research to solve the dilibitating, and sometimes fatal disease of Type I diabetes.
The two-year funding mechanism for the SDP, as it is also known, is set to expire at the end of September and a group of youngsters most affected by the disease will soon be invading the Nation's Capitol advocating for its renewal.
Among those who will be speaking on the program's behalf will be an Olive Branch teenager, 16-year-old Sarah James, who is a junior this year at Northpoint Christian School in Southaven.
James has lived with Type I diabetes since age 10 and will be part of a group representing the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) during a three-day visit to Congress on July 24-26. JDRF provides funding and accomodations for the visit and re-imburses participants and their families for transportation to and from Washington.
"A group of 160 kids are going to Washington, D.C., representing all 50 states, plus some from Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Israel and the United Kingdom," James said. "We're all going to say that, 'We have a face. This is diabetes.' We are all kids ranging from age 4-17 and we're trying to express ourselves to our government."
It's not the first time James has been to Washington for this effort, having also gone as an eighth-grader.
James' powers of persuasion have apparently done well, since the program that funds the NIH to the tune of $150 million annually for diabetes research has never been turned away by Congress.
Active in the West Tennessee chapter of the JDRF, based in Collierville, Tenn., James has also received awards for her and her family helping to raise more than $40,000 for diabetes research. She involves herself in an annual fundraising walk event and speaks when asked to explain what Type I diabetes is all about.
James knows the subject all too well.
"Type I diabetes is an auto-immune disease, which means that your body turns on itself and its immune system attacks its own tissues," James said. "My body thought the beta cells inside my pancreas were foreign and so they attacked and killed those beta cells. Those beta cells within the pancreas are what produced insulin."
Without insulin, sugars that enter the blood stream basically sit there and cannot be consumed as energy.
James has various methods that regulate the insulin to ensure she is not getting too little or too much insulin into the system and her monitoring of herself and her insulin injections go way beyond a simple finger prick and a needle or pill.
She constantly carries items with her that include snacks or glucose pills for immediate sugar to an insulin pump and a Constant Glucose Monitoring (CGM) device that constantly lets her and her family known what level of blood sugars are in her body.
"The CGM every six minutes checks your blood sugar," Sarah said. "It's not as accurate as pricking your finger, but it gives you a ballpark range of where your blood sugar is at that moment in time."
Through monitoring and mobile phone apps, Sarah's mother and father can quickly learn through alerts when her glucose levels have reached dangerous levels, either low or high blood sugar, allowing them to quickly act to address the problem.
All the items that Sarah either injects, swallows or wears have not kept her from leading as active a lifestyle as possible, however.
James plays soccer and tennis, is involved in vocal music and theater.
"It takes a long time to get a rhythm and I'm still learning on different ways to do things," James said. "It doesn't physically stop you from doing anything. It makes things harder, that's for sure. You get accustomed to it and you learn how to do things differently."
James stated Type I diabetes affects about 1.25 million Americans and projections are the number could reach 5 million by the year 2050.
The trip to Washington will include both a public session with the House of Representatives and private meetings with Mississippi U.S. Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, as well as First District Rep. Trent Kelly, all Republicans.
"I think they've never turned us down for funding, so I'm pretty positive about this," James said. "They love it, from what I've heard. They always look forward to this trip whenever we come in getting to meet with the kids and talking to us."
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.