Fighting diabetes, a ZIP code at a time

Herald-Leader columnistJanuary 26, 2010 

The good thing about youth is that there hasn't been time for a whole lot of failure, no time to become jaded. Everything is possible with enough effort.

That's why Emilee Brooke Fairchild of Paintsville thinks she can get folks to help find a cure for Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes by raising $100 in each ZIP code in Kentucky.

It doesn't seem that far-fetched now that I've talked with Emilee.

Zip the Cure, a non-profit organization based in Pittsburgh and founded by a 15-year-old girl who has lived with the disease most of her life, has set up a Web site and established state captains to get the word out and the money coming in.

Emilee, 13, is Kentucky's captain.

She was diagnosed with Type 1 in 2004, when she was 7. She had suffered severe headaches, and when a relative suggested testing her blood by a finger prick, her fasting blood sugar reading was 586 milligrams. Normal fasting levels are between 70 and 110.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin to properly control blood sugar levels. It's generally diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults. No one knows the cause, but genetic, environmental and auto immune factors are involved.

"My life was definitely changed," Emilee said. "I was afraid to be away from Mom and Dad. I was afraid that if my blood sugar went too high or low, I could have a seizure or go into a coma."

Emilee's mother, Paula Fairchild, said the disease has hit their family hard. Paula Fairchild's sister was diagnosed with it, as were two uncles.

Emilee was hospitalized several times during the first year after her diagnosis because bouts with strep throat, viruses and the accompanying lack of appetite all affected her blood sugar levels.

She required five insulin shots a day and 10 finger pricks to monitor her blood sugar.

"These steps were necessary not only to stay healthy," Paula Fairchild said, "but to stay alive. Without insulin, she will die."

Emilee's parents became very protective, not allowing sleep-overs at friends' homes and accompanying her on all field trips.

"It can be managed," her mom said. "It just takes effort."

And just when the family thought everything was under control, puberty struck, sending hormones and blood sugar readings out of whack.

Now Emilee has an insulin pump, which makes insulin injection easier but does not automatically regulate blood sugar levels. Friends and family help her recognize when her levels are up or down.

"A lot of my friends can tell if it's high or low by how I'm acting," Emilee said. "When my blood sugar is low, I'm a little shaky, disorganized and disoriented. I stare into space when it is high."

Her mom said Emilee, a seventh-grader at Johnson County Middle School, has carefully followed dietary requirements and restrictions because she knows she'll be gravely ill if she doesn't.

Although she has learned to manage the disease, Emilee would like to help find a cure so others won't have to go through what she has.

That's why she joined Zip the Cure.

The project's goal is to collect money in each of the country's 42,000 ZIP codes. If $100 is donated in each one, $4.2 million will be raised.

When a ZIP code is "sold," it is marked green on a map on the organization's Web site, So far, more than 110 ZIP codes have been sold in about 30 states.

Kentucky has more than 950 ZIP codes, and none have been sold, Paula Fairchild said.

We need to get moving.

A corporation, business, school, neighborhood association or individual can buy a ZIP code and help Emilee reach her goal. All proceeds benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Go to the Web site to make a donation. If you have questions, e-mail Emilee at

"I don't care if I have to stand on the side of the road," Emilee said. "I will do anything to find a cure."

Reach Merlene Davis at (859) 231-3218 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3218, or

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