As diseases go, diabetes sounds serious enough but also quite treatable. While both are true, the latter might suggest it's something that can be set aside as an inconvenience in the modern age of medicine.
"That is so not true," says Bobbi Reitzes , founder of the Westchester Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Getting ready for the 25th annual gala to raise money for a cure, she can attest first hand - and more than once - on the complications that come with Juvenile Diabetes or Type 1 Diabetes. Her son and daughter both have the condition, and while theyregulate with insulin, remaining healthy requires a lifestyle that most of us would find dramatic. My son bikes all over Manhattan and Brooklyn on a daily basis and my daughter goes to the gym six times a week, she says.
In contrast, those without diabetes don't need that level of physical activity or serious carbohydrate control because a normally functioning pancreas regulates the sugar in blood cells. Otherwise, she says, "Sugar in the blood destroys other cells - especially in the kidneys and your eyes." So aside from the potential for kidney failure and/or blindness, people with diabetes are more susceptible to heart disease, stroke and neuropathy.
In the short term, ignoring symptoms like excessive thirst, frequent, urination or rapid weight loss can have catastrophic consequences. You could have a seizure and die, she says.
Nonetheless, she says, a lot of people ignore the warning signs, and as it stands, the knowledge that continues to accumulate has not gotten us any nearer to a cure. On the other hand, research has simplified treatment greatly since her children were first diagnosed. People with diabetes wear a belt that is hooked to their blood stream and based on the carbohydrates consumed, they can tap the appropriate number of units of insulin into their system.
Buther own involvement began with a lot less sophistication, as the Westchester Chapter of the Foundation was disbanding. She received a call from another mother about stepping in and keeping the cause alive locally. So, she says, "As a parent, I felt helpless, and I wanted to do my share to get us to a cure faster.
In this their 25th year, the effort has grown exponentially since its start in 1985 and there are hundreds of active members and contributors. $10 million dollars later, large companies such as Pepsico and Entergy have also played an important part in Westchester's success, but a high profile disease such as this doesn't open the coffers as easily as it might seem. "It's hard," she says, they all have budgets and donations often come because the disease directly effects someone within an organization.
Either way, the gala always delivers. It's fabulous, she says, and we often get over four or five hundred guests with a silent auction, a long cocktail hour and live entertainment.
Reaching out, even though the money raised doesn't directly assist those in need locally, the Westchester Chapter doesn't leave families hanging. If anyone needs help they can call us and we refer them to the appropriate agencies.
And the kids are not forgotten either. We have an annual trip to Playland and a Halloween Party. "It's just so they know they are not alone and there are other people who have diabetes like they do," she concludes.
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