Kaylah Gunst is one brave little girl. The 6-year-old is going to Washington, D.C. on June 22 to represent Florida at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Children’s Congress. She will be traveling with her mother, Andrea Gunst; her aunt, Amber Chancey; and her “Grammy” Diane Chancey, of Palmetto.
Life for Kaylah is a day-to-day struggle with a disease that as of yet has no cure. Kaylah has type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes — the most serious and complicated form of the disease that accounts for some $132 billion in annual health care costs in the United States alone. In type 1 diabetes a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that enables people to get energy from food. To survive, Kaylah’s support team of mom, aunt and grandma must test her blood sugar up to 10 times a day by pricking her fingers for blood, and then administering insulin through multiple, daily injections.
When I met Kaylah last week, she held up her hands to show me the little cuts on her fingers. While trying to balance insulin with the amount of food eaten (which raises blood sugar) and exercise (which lowers blood sugar), people with type 1 diabetes must constantly be prepared for potential life-threatening hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) reactions.
Blood sugar can rise and fall unexpectedly, Diane Chancey told me. When that happens, Kaylah can go into a life-threatening seizure if emergency steps are not taken. Type 1 diabetes carries long-term complications of blindness, heart attack, kidney failure, stroke, nerve damage and amputations. While usually diagnosed in childhood, it is also diagnosed in adults.
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Kaylah is going to Washington to appear at a Senate hearing with actress Mary Tyler Moore — who also has type 1 diabetes — to lobby for more money for research. Those of us back home can support her efforts. Support the 2009 Walk to Cure Diabetes that will be held 5 p.m. Friday at the Ellenton Outlet Mall. If you are interested in donating or volunteering, call the Florida Suncoast Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at (941) 929-0621.
Keep in mind that with 10 or more needle sticks a day, Kaylah has to be stuck more than 3,650 times per year. She will not outgrow the disease. It will not go away. Her only hope is a cure.
Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049.