By LARISSA COPELAND
Monday, 14-year-old Lundyn Cox boarded a flight to Washington, D.C. Unlike others her age, the Yukon teen’s trip wasn’t a vacation; Cox was on her way to lobby Congress to continue supporting type-1 diabetes research.
“We have been meeting other delegates from all over the country,” Cox’s mother, Brandy Skoropowski, said after the two arrived in D.C. “This is especially great for Lundyn because she doesn’t know many people with diabetes. There is a familiar buzz of alarms going off while they are all exchanging social media handles.”
Lundyn Cox was diagnosed with diabetes when she was six years old.
“It was right after we went to Disneyland for spring break,” Cox said.
A doctor’s visit led to Cox being admitted to the emergency room, where she received her diagnosis. During that time, the family got involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The JDRF provided Cox and Skoropowski with information and a network of support from other people and parents with diabetic children.
Now, Cox balances maintaining her health with school, friends and her hobbies: art, science and softball.
“I really like science class and creating stuff. I take art lessons, and I like to paint and draw and everything like that. I also like to play softball. I have practice throughout the week.”
This year, Cox’s science project won first place in her category at the state level.
“I built a wind turbine and tested different blades that have been contaminated by things like bug guts and ice, and I tested how much energy they lost based on those different contaminants,” she said.
“We’re going to D.C. with JDRF. There’s the special diabetes program, and it will run out in September. They give $150 million to diabetes research every year,” Cox said, adding that she and other participants want to
convince Congress to continue funding diabetes research and lower the cost of insulin and devices for diabetics.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to see all the political buildings and all the historical things about D.C., but also just getting to make a difference for the people who don’t get to have all the supplies they need, and being able to help those people,” she said.
Every two years, Skoropowski said, the special diabetes program sends children to meet with their representatives and give first-hand accounts of life with diabetes and the importance of continuing to fund research.
“Until we have a cure, just being able to have easier maintenance and keeping everyone healthy is JDRF’s goal,” Skoropowski said.
Cox’s artificial pancreas, which helps manage her diabetes by sensing dips and spikes in her blood sugar and adjusting insulin levels accordingly, is a product of that research funded by the federal government. The device lets Cox spend her days without having to tote insulin pens or testing materials.
“She was able to really see where the money was going, and that made her more aware,” Skoropowski said.
That awareness led to a desire to help others manage life with diabetes.
“We want everybody to be able to have those benefits, and unfortunately right now with insulin prices the way they are, we have lots of friends and other people we know that really struggle to get supplies.”
Once, Cox ran out of test strips before her delivery arrived. Until her delivery, Cox relied on test strips donated by others – something, Skoropowksi said, that shouldn’t be part of life with diabetes.
But it’s not just opening eyes to the need for continued funding; Skoropowski said the delegations help Cox meet others who, like her, live with type-1 diabetes.
“It’s great to see so many other kids manage their diabetes in public,” Skoropowski said. “Hearing their stories and sharing her (Cox’s) own is incredibly rewarding.”
Accompanying the two to DC is Archie, Cox’s service dog.
“We found Archie on the side of the road on Mother’s Day of last year,” Cox said. “He was abandoned in a crate. We actually brought him home and we were going to give him to a shelter, but all the shelters were full. So we were just keeping him so he had a home until we could find him another home, but we got really attached to him.”
To the family’s surprise, Archie started naturally alerting to Cox’s blood sugar.
“In the middle of the night he would be whining and my mom would wake up thinking he had to go to the bathroom, but he’d be in my room next to my bed, and she would test me and my blood sugar would be out of range,” Cox said.
Archie, it turned out, was a good candidate for a service dog.
“We’re all done with training, and he’s certified and I’m certified,” Cox said. “He helps me by alerting to my blood sugar in real time, whereas my monitor takes about 15 minutes to catch up. That helps me stay in range a lot more. Also, he’s comforting, so when my blood sugar does get out of range, he helps me calm down and fix it so it doesn’t get more out of range.”
Skoropowski explained that Archie is able to smell a hormone released when Cox’s blood sugar leaves its normal range. Often, Archie will sense that Cox’s blood sugar is out of range before Cox herself.
“She’s had him with her every day since November, which is National Diabetes Month, and we had gone to the doctor right before she started taking him, and then we went in April, and her time in range has improved from 70% to 90%, and her average blood sugar has gone down 10%. That’s good,” Skoropowski said. “All those things show that, whatever it may be, that he’s either keeping her more alert or more calm or whatever, it’s definitely working.”