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Aiming for advocacy: The American Diabetes Association - West Michigan

The American Diabetes Association - West Michigan is striving to help make Michigan more aware of the risks of diabetes.
My Dexcom CGM, which helps monitor my blood sugar on a daily basis.

My Dexcom CGM, which helps monitor my blood sugar on a daily basis.

The American Diabetes Association

For more information, visit The American Diabetes Association--West Michigan.

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Diabetes can be a deadly disease that shapes itself into many forms. It can also, however, in the best cases, be a call-to-action. Type One diabetes, which is dubbed “insulin-dependent” diabetes, attacks the body from birth. It develops because the body’s immune system destroys the beta cells in a certain portion of the pancreas, which is referred to as the islet tissue. Doctors and scientists are still puzzled as to what initially triggers type one diabetes in adolescents. The most common theory revolves around obtaining diseases like pneumonia or other relatively short-term illnesses that attack the body's immune system.

As an entire organization, the American Diabetes Association has achieved many fantastic feats. Some of these include raising $68 million dollars for diabetes research at the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. They have also continued to include diabetes among the diseases eligible for the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.

I interviewed Kevin Yeomans, who is the Associate Manager of Development at the American Diabetes Association - West Michigan. I presented him with a question along the lines of, “Type one and type two are obviously very different, but do people in Michigan tend to lump them together, as if they were the same thing?” His answer made me think twice about the stigmas and stereotypes that currently surround the disease as a whole: “There’s a stigma attached to it, that “these people need to exercise and eat healthy.” They don’t always know that there is a genetic component to it. We’re trying to get rid of that stigma.”

Since growing up with type one diabetes my entire life, I constantly participated in JDRF walks and golf outings. Illinois is relatively notorious for raising money for JDRF because of their connection to former Chicago Cub Ron Santo, who passed away from health complications relating to his type one diabetes in December of 2010. Since his death, he has been a positive influence among the people of Chicago also struggling with type one diabetes.

Since moving to Michigan for college, I have not become as involved with the American Diabetes Association or the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International) communities as I would desire to be. I have not seen that same enthusiasm about raising money for this disease as I previously had back home. Getting involved and raising awareness for this disease is something very close to my heart. However, with the constantly fast-paced speed of school and dealing with my health, I never had the chance to make my voice heard in Michigan. When tasked with writing an open ended piece for the Rapidian as a school assignment, I knew right away what I wanted to write about.

I asked Kevin what exactly his job entails. He said it relates heavily to “building relationships with companies and individuals to either raise money for research and advocacy of diabetes, and working with hospitals and other health care institutions, some relatively more smaller scale than the others.” Kevin told me that one of their biggest goals was to help raise money for a cure and to help people better understand the disease as a whole. The American Diabetes Association - West Michigan wants its main focus to be on advocacy for this disease.

From what Kevin relayed to me in our interview, Michigan is a wonderful place to help spread the word about the disease and to help raise awareness. He has seen people who are very aware of what exactly the disease, both ends of it, entails. However, he also said that “there is a very big area going forward that needs to expand,” meaning that there is still room for improvement. This improvement could come in many shapes and many forms. Getting to the point where we can finally implement that improvement, however, is going to be one of the many big steps moving forward.

After our interview, Kevin invited me to help out the Grand Rapids Office of the American Diabetes Association. The branch located in Grand Rapids is trying to make segway with helping spread awareness through colleges in the area. I look forward to getting the chance to help them out in my last semester at Grand Valley State University. Awareness is the key to opening the door that contains a cure for this chronic disease, and the American Diabetes Association - West Michigan is well on their way to obtaining that elusive key.

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