In September, the National Federation of the Blind’s Diabetes Action Network, The National Kidney Foundation, the Amputee Coalition of America and GlaxoSmithKline sponsored a congressional luncheon to promote understanding among the nation’s lawmakers about the seriousness of Type 2 diabetes and its complications and to urge greater research funding. Publishing director Eileen Rivera Ley and editor Elizabeth Lunt traveled to Washington D.C. from the Voice headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, to attend. Congressional Vision Caucus co-chairs Gene Green, David Price, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Patrick J. Tiberi hosted the meeting.
Representative Price opened by reminding us that it is crucial that legislators hear directly from citizens who experience the disease in addition to experts and caregivers. He believes that the National Institutes of Health need to make more of an investment in diabetes treatment research, and that a cooperative effort among advocacy groups and policymakers will be necessary in helping diabetics manage their condition and prevent complications.
Charlie Steel, representing the Amputee Coalition of America, announced that he wished he had changed things for himself. He was a typical “type A” worker who neglected his health, he explained, and he didn’t follow his doctor’s advice after his diabetes diagnosis. As his condition worsened, he underwent a bypass operation and the loss of his leg. Others can avoid what happened to him, he stressed, and urged aggressive treatment of pre-diabetes through education. The power is in D.C., he observed, and lawmakers need to act.
Lois Williams, president of the Diabetes Action Network, traveled from Huntsville, Alabama, to urge our government to invest in diabetes education and prevention efforts. Lois is legally blind but at the best part of her adult life learned to control her diabetes. Although she despaired when she first realized her vision would not return, she developed strength by working with members of the DAN and now wants to help all diabetics with and without complications to find that strength. Through advocacy and support work, she stated, she knows we can help others who are experiencing complications.
Delores Wilson, on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation, recounted that she knew diabetes would come to her because of her father. She was told she should be on a low-calorie diet and simply did not like that advice. She confessed she went ahead and ate everything. Now she is at end-stage kidney disease; her kidneys don’t make the proper enzymes and it’s difficult to keep up her energy. She finds it an out-and-out challenge to continue. She urged action to reduce the challenge to sick people and help them to manage.
Daniel Garret, of the American Pharmacists Association Foundation, provided a bright spot in the briefing by presenting an innovative education support program for diabetics. Through this program, pharmacists meet one-on-one with diabetics to help them manage their medications, exercise programs and diet plans. The personal attention, he explained, has been proven to help diabetics manage and develop fewer complications and lifts their spirits. The service is provided by employers to their diabetic employees as part of a benefits package. Mr. Garret is expanding the program and will be approaching more large employers in the months to come.
Dr. George Bakris, MD, of the University of Chicago-Pritzker School of Medicine presented many alarming statistics on the status of diabetes and its far-reaching effects on our population. Blindness, kidney disease, amputation—these are all complications that may be reduced or prevented by proper management, including medication and lifestyle changes. Dr. Bakris’ take-home message: early intervention is key to preservation of life.
Members of congress need to hear directly from patients and caregivers to understand diabetes, its complications and management. We at the Diabetes Action Network and our partner sponsors of this event will continue to advocate for positive change in diabetes management, and encourage you to share your stories with your elected officials.