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.html">Teen takes diabetes cause to D.C.
Bedford Town Online
Bedford's home on the web, featuring news and information from the
Thursday, July 8, 1999
Teen takes diabetes cause to D.C.
By DENISE DUBE
Sixteen-year-old Samantha Richardson of Bedford might not have thought
she had much in common with actress Mary Tyler Moore or Miss America
Nicole Johnson, but unfortunately for her, she does.
Two years ago, Richardson was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, a
disease she shares with the celebrities.
Richardson met Moore, Johnson and congressional leaders last month when
she joined 99 other young American delegates at the first Juvenile
Diabetes Foundation International (JDF) Children's Congress to Cure
Diabetes, led by Moore, the international chairman for JDF.
The delegates converged on the nation's capital recently and pleaded
with the country's leaders to increase funding for the research that
could ultimately find a cure for diabetes.
The youngsters of all ages stood before the congressional leaders from
June 20-22 and expounded on the latest facts and figures on the disease
that affects approximately 16 million Americans. Some shared their
personal stories and how having diabetes impacts their lives.
During the three-day event in Washington, D.C., the
youngsters-with-a-cause visited Health Education and Welfare Secretary
Donna Shalala; watched a Rosie O'Donnell show that featured members of
the JDF Children's Congress; went before the senate for a hearing on
diabetes; heard members of congress speak; and attended a congressional
luncheon attended by local Congressman John Tierney.
More than just elected officials and delegates attended the three-day
"There were just so many famous people who supported it and are affected
by it," Richardson said of the Children's Congress appearances of
talk-show host King, singer Tony Bennett, and Johnson.
Like Richardson, Johnson also has diabetes and must test herself six or
seven times a day to closely monitor changeable blood sugar levels.
Richardson was hospitalized and diagnosed with juvenile or Type 1
diabetes on Jan. 23, 1997 after spending the previous weeks catching
every cough, cold and flu that passed through the halls of the John
Glenn Middle School. During her pre-diagnosis period Richardson
remembered that she was often irritable and tired and was constantly
thirsty and going to the bathroom.
That diabetes diagnosis and its subsequent treatment was life changing
for Richardson and the rest of her family. Getting through the day meant
changing eating habits, constantly monitoring blood sugar levels and
maintaining those levels with numerous daily shots.
Until recently, Richardson had to inject up to eight daily shots of
"I'm on a pump now," she explained and pulled a 2-inch by 4-inch MiniMed
507C cobalt blue plastic pump with a digital display from her shirt
pocket. A skinny opaque tube, three feet long, attaches from the pump
directly into Richardson's abdomen. It carries a retail price of $5,000.
Supplies can run up to $600 per month, Samantha and her mother Melanie
Throughout the day, with continuous and almost hourly data input by
Richardson, the pump dispenses the necessary insulin directly into her
"It's better because you don't have to do shots every day," Richardson
"It gives a steady drip drip drip, just like a human pancreas," her
With the new technology the 16-year-old brunette forgoes the eight daily
injections of last year, but still must give herself one enormous shot
every two days. That shot, or needle, inserts a one-half inch tubule
connection into her body that links the three feet of tubing to the blue
Every two days a new vial of insulin is inserted into the back of the
MiniMed, the old connection is pulled from her abdomen and a new site is
found. Once again, Richardson will insert a needle into one of several
designated sites, providing the tubule link for the MiniMed to shoot the
insulin when needed.
It's something Richardson must do for herself in order to survive.
Evidence of that is seen on her young abdomen, spotted with red dots
from previous connections.
Although the expensive device provides relief from numerous daily
injections it still requires human input and constant vigilance.
"She has to provide all the math for it," Melanie Richardson explains.
"So that the dose matches her intake of food."
Only after Richardson has factored in that food intake, along with
recent and future exercise levels, carbohydrate intake and current blood
glucose levels, will the machine take over and dispense the proper
amount of insulin.
Those blood glucose levels must come from a fresh blood drop of blood,
taken by poking a finger tip six or seven times a day. After more than
two years and approximately 6,000 finger pricks, Richardson can actually
do the test in her sleep.
"She can do it without waking up," Melanie Richardson said of her
daughter's testing expertise.
However, Richardson must also do those blood level tests when she is
awake -- and in public places. That life-saving test and the resulting
drop of blood have sometimes been met with public disapproval and
insensitivity - something that annoys both Melanie and Samantha.
"People are squeamish or insulting about what she has to do to survive,"
her mother said.
It is Richardson's young friends who are her biggest supporters, said
Samantha, especially friend Nicole Giourard, who wanted to learn how to
administer the shots to Samantha.
"She cared enough to learn about it," Richardson said of Giourard
"My friends have been so awesome," Richardson said and told of buddies
who want to try getting blood drops from their own fingers. "I couldn't
do this without my friends."
"All her friends are educated on the symptoms of low [blood sugars],"
Melanie said. With knowledge of the symptoms they can alert Richardson
if they see her exhibiting any signs of low blood sugar.
As understanding and knowledgeable as her friends may be, Richardson's
most ardent supporter and arguably JDF's biggest promoter is probably
her mother Melanie. She knows and can recite almost every fact,
percentage and figure about diabetes and stresses the importance of
public education on the disease.
Richardson said she will continue working as one of three JDF delegates
from Massachusetts. All three, Richardson, Tom Solo, 9, of Newton, and
Sam Melton, 8, of Lexington, will lobby for increased funding and
educate the public about the disease that causes more than 750,000
Americans to depend on insulin for survival and decreases a life
expectancy by 15 years. What inspires the Richardsons' to continue
increasing the public awareness and for Samantha Richardson to be so
diligent with her care and well being? The answers are simple and both
Richardsons list them easily. Kidney failure, blindness, heart disease,
and amputation, all possible repercussions for the diabetic who does not
take proper care.
"It's scary. Even if you do take care of yourself you can still suffer
consequences," Richardson said and spoke of a friend who is beginning to
"I can't be a reckless care free crazy teenager at all," Richardson
said. "I can't just go out and have fun."
For information contact the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Bay State
Chapter, 20 Walnut St., Suite 318, Wellesley Hills, MA. 02481 or call
Insulin Pumpers website http://www.insulin-pumpers.org/
for mail subscription assistance, contact: HELP@insulin-pumpers.org