ROGERS -- Kat Lynch hopes to help lawmakers put a face to a disease when she travels to Washington this month to advocate for juvenile diabetes research.
Kat, 12, of Rogers was one of 150 children chosen from 1,300 applicants nationally to participate in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Children's Congress.
The foundation pays all expenses of the three-day trip for each child and one adult who accompanies the child. Kat will go with her mother, Veronica Lynch.
The children are scheduled to meet with congressmen and senators to talk about Type 1 diabetes and urge them to support continued federal funding of research into the disease.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Kat, who will be a seventh-grader at Bentonville's Fulbright Junior High School this fall.
The Children's Congress is an "extremely important" part of the foundation's advocacy effort that allows lawmakers to better understand Type 1 diabetes, said Sue Tull, executive director of the foundation's Arkansas chapter.
"They remember that child's face, and that personalizes this really awful disease to a congressional member and really gives them the impetus to support us with legislation," Tull said. "It puts a face on an autoimmune disease that is a 24/7 struggle."
Of particular importance to the foundation is the Special Diabetes Program, which provides $150 million per year for Type 1 diabetes research at the National Institutes of Health. The program was last renewed in 2015 for two years. The foundation this year is seeking a three-year renewal.
"With that money we can create stuff like the artificial pancreas to eventually turn Type 1 into type none," Kat said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers, has supported the diabetes program in the past, said Heather Neilson, Womack's press secretary.
"We don't see any reason why he wouldn't do so again this year," Neilson said.
About 35 kids from Arkansas applied to be part of this year's Children's Congress. Garner Hodge, 16, of Little Rock was the only other Arkansan chosen, Tull said.
Local chapters of the foundation review the applications and add their comments before forwarding them to a committee at the national level that chooses the delegates, Tull said.
Kat spoke at the foundation's gala in Bentonville this year, where she "brought down the house," Tull said.
"There wasn't a dry eye in the house. She was unbelievable, speaking about her experience and what [the foundation] has done for her," Tull said.
Kat was 7 years old when it became apparent something wasn't right. She was unusually hungry and thirsty, was suffering from nausea and losing weight. Her parents took her to a doctor, who told them Kat had a virus.
Only after buying a home blood testing kit did they find Kat's blood sugar level was extraordinarily high, leading to her Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
More than 29 million Americans have one of the two types of diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 1 accounts for about 5 percent of diabetes cases.
A person with Type 1 diabetes does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
Type 2 diabetes, the far more common type, typically develops during adulthood and is the result of the body being unable to use insulin the right way. Type 2, unlike Type 1, can be prevented or at least delayed with a healthy lifestyle.
Those with Type 1 diabetes have done nothing to bring the disease upon themselves, said Jeff Lynch, Kat's father.
"There's no change in diet to fix it. There's no change in diet to prevent it. It just happens," he said.
Research and technology, however, have made Kat's life easier. She wears a continuous glucose monitor on her belly that measures her blood sugar level once every five minutes -- an easy alternative to finger pricks throughout the day to check levels manually.
Most exciting to diabetics is the ongoing development of an artificial pancreas that moderates blood sugar levels just like a normal pancreas does.
"That means no more blood sugar tests, no more needles, no more shots and I don't have to worry about my blood sugar going high or my blood sugar going low. I can feel free," Kat said.
The Children's Congress is more than just an opportunity to advocate for diabetes research; it's also a chance for the participants to hone their communication and leadership skills, Tull said.
"They have to know what advocacy issues are most important to us as an organization and communicate those to the legislators in an articulate manner," she said.
Metro on 07/10/2017
Knowing the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes could save a life:
• Excessive thirst
• Frequent bathroom breaks
• Sudden weight loss
• Vomiting, stomach ache and flu-like symptoms
• Blurry vision
Source: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Print Headline: Rogers girl a diabetes advocate; She’ll talk to Washington lawmakers, urge research funding