Toledo resident William Beebe is only 14 years old, but he's already committed to finding a cure for diabetes.
William, an incoming freshman at St. John's Jesuit High School, who has Type 1 juvenile diabetes, said he was "ecstatic" when he found out he would be going to Washington with 150 other young delegates to participate in the 2011 Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's "Children's Congress." The delegates came from across the United States and abroad to urge officials to accelerate the system's research and review process, and lobby for continued research funding.
William was one of seven young delegates chosen from Ohio, and six from Michigan. The event was also attended by American Idol singer Crystal Bowersox
The teenager contracted diabetes when he was just 5 years old. There is no cure, but he said an artificial pancreas, which would automatically disperse insulin based on changes in blood sugar levels, would significantly improve the lives of diabetics.
An artificial pancreas system, though supported by Congress, has not yet been approved by the FDA, and is being looked at in other countries.
"The only thing we're waiting for is FDA approval; Congress has signed off on it; we just need them to push it along," William said.
Celebrities with diabetes, who include Ms. Bowersox, the Ottawa County native and 2010 American Idol runner-up, also joined the campaign, proving to the children that diabetes shouldn't stop them from pursuing their dreams.
Ms. Bowersox led the event's traditional performance of the song "Promise to Remember Me" on Tuesday. Other celebrities in attendance were Olympic gold medalist and swimmer Gary Hall, Jr., NFL football guard Kendall Simmons, and Amazing Race winner Natalie Strand.
William and Ms. Bowersox participated in a blitz on Capitol Hill Wednesday, urging officials to expedite the approval process for an artificial pancreas system. The teen also met Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) to share his personal story.
"I told [Miss Kaptur and Ms. Bowersox] my life story about diabetes, and I went through my scrapbook," William said.
"I told [them] all about the artificial pancreas project, which is done in [other] countries, but not in the United States."
Ms. Bowersox also joined in the meeting with Miss Kaptur.
"We need to make sure federal agencies like the FDA are doing their part to speed better treatments like the artificial pancreas, so that people with Type 1 are as healthy as possible and protected from complications of this disease," Ms. Bowersox said.
Miss Kaptur is in full support of such a treatment.
"Everyone knows someone with diabetes -- a relative, a neighbor, or a co-worker," she said. "We cannot rest until we find a solution to improve the quality of life for millions of people."
The artificial pancreas system would not only be life-changing for many U.S. citizens, but, she said, it would also save millions of dollars in medical expenses.
"People will be able to be more efficiently regulated," Miss Kaptur said. "It's a lifesaving device with economic [benefits.]"
Diabetes accounts for $174 billion in health-care costs in the United States each year, according to the JDRF.
According to the news links on the JDRF Web site, the method already has been successfully tested in some European countries and Canada. Miss Kaptur said typically she would expect the FDA approval process to take several years, but members of Congress have "expressed an interest in moving things along" here.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that strikes children and adults suddenly, and can be fatal. Those with Type 1 -- the most serious form of the disease -- must test their blood sugar and receive multiple insulin injections each day. Insulin is not a cure for diabetes, however; nor does it prevent complications related to the disease such as kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, stroke, and amputation.
"So many people in our region suffer from the diabetic condition; we have this massive medical school, and we have all kinds of companies around us. We have access that can be more forcefully employed to find answers," Miss Kaptur said. "I am in favor of the artificial pancreas. However, there is more research to be done and it can be done in our region."
William said he will definitely join other campaigns in the future, continuing to push for a cure.
"Marcy Kaptur wanted us to talk to … the University of Toledo Medical Center to see if they can start doing research closer to home, maybe even testing closer to home," he said.
The JDRF Children's Congress has been held biennially since 1999.
Contact Sara Felsenstein at email@example.com or 419-724-6050.