A Leeds teenager who has Type 1 Diabetes was picked from hundreds of people to travel across the Atlantic and convince USA lawmakers to keep funding a charity aiming to find a cure for the condition.
Laura Dunion, 16, was diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune condition aged eight and is attached to an insulin pump at all hours to stay alive.
The Oulton youngster, who attends Silcoates School in Wakefield, was chosen by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to represent the country at its Children’s Congress in Washington DC. She and her mother fly out on July 22.
And on Friday, local Olympian Nile Wilson met with Laura at the Leeds Gymnastic Centre as part of a drive to raise awareness of the condition.
Her mother Lynn, 45, said: “I’m immensely proud. She’s done so, so well. She’s tried to be very positive about her Type 1 Diabetes and tried not to let it take control of her life.”
She added: “When she was diagnosed it was devastating.
“Aged eight, she was starting just to go out in the street and play with friends and be independent.
“It went from that to me not wanting to leave her in a room in case she had a hypo. It was like bringing home a newborn baby and starting again.”
As a Children’s Ambassador for JDRF, Laura and her family have supported the charity since she was diagnosed by raising funds and helping with events such as a colour run at the Brownlee Centre last on June 25.
They will visit Capitol Hill near the White House and meet Federal lawmakers during the upcoming trip.
The USA government gives $150m to JDRF every year and the Children’s Congress works to keep this funding going.
But Laura said: “I’ve never been to America before. I can’t wait.”
The charity’s main aim is to find a cure for the condition by funding research and raising awareness. With 150 American children – three from each state – and six other international delegates, Laura will have the task of letting US leaders know why their support is so critical.
Social care worker Mrs Dunion said that the visit was about “bringing about a world without Type 1 Diabetes”.
As well as using her pump, Laura wears a Continuous Glucose Monitor, a small sensor and computer attached to her skin. It communicates with her insulin pump so that her blood sugar is monitored in real time. Her pump will shut off the insulin if her blood is going low, preventing her from having a potentially life-threatening hypoglycaemic episode.
JDRF funded a “pioneering” clinical Artificial Pancreas Trial, which Laura was also involved in, that allows insulin to be administered without human intervention.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes occurs when, for reasons not yet fully understood, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas which create insulin.
But insulin is vital for moving energy in food – glucose – from the blood to cells.
When the balance is not right, one of two things will happen: either blood glucose drops too low and results in hypoglycaemia (a ‘hypo’), or blood glucose rises too high and hyperglycaemia (a ‘hyper’) occurs. For information, visit www.diabetes.org.uk