Merlene Davis: Group to focus legislators on diabetes for a day

Lora Danley went to high school with her daughter, a junior, every day for two months, staying there just in case her daughter experienced another diabetic episode.

"The nurse was really wonderful," Danley said. "She really took her time to explain things and to keep her on track. She was always available, educating the teachers and others, and that was the biggest relief for a parent."

Now, her daughter is a student at Eastern Kentucky University and living on campus. But Danley wants a safety net in place for other parents, especially parents of elementary-age students who are diabetic.

"My big thing is, I try to advocate for school nurses," she said. "My daughter was in high school. I couldn't imagine sending a younger child off to school when a nurse is not there."

Danley and others will visit Frankfort legislators Feb. 10 for the 12th annual Diabetes Day at the Capitol. Sponsored by the Kentucky Diabetes Network and the American Diabetes Association, the event invites parents, medical professionals, school officials and patients to spend the day in Frankfort to ensure that advancements are not taken away and, perhaps, gains can be made in the treatment or prevention of diabetes.

The morning starts with a session to inform participants about pending legislation and to instruct them on how to speak with legislators, said Kim Coy DeCoste of the Diabetes Center of Excellence at the Madison County Health Department.

"Then it is divide and conquer," DeCoste said. "We want to help them (the legislators) understand the impact and the importance of the disease in this state."

Luckily, she said, it is not a hard sale. "We have been very fortunate. Our legislators are very supportive," DeCoste said.

Nancy Walker, chair woman of the Kentucky Diabetes Network, said two bills have been introduced that call for increased physical activity for students in kindergarten through fifth grades, and there is one that would have a child's body mass index included on physical examination forms that can then be shared with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Past successes, she said, include improving school nutrition, requiring state insurance to cover diabetic supplies, and having glucagon on hand at schools for low-blood-sugar emergencies. Glucagon can be mixed and administered by trained non-medical personnel.

"But we want to ensure they provide care at all the schools and not just specific ones," Walker said.

And the need seems to be growing.

The Centers for Disease Control released new data in January that shows the incidence of diabetes is on the ruse. Nearly 26 million Americans are thought to have Type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC. That's an increase from an estimated 23.6 in 2008.

Also, the CDC estimates that 79 million adults have pre-diabetes, in which sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Kentucky has the fourth-highest prevalence rate of diabetes in the nation: 11.4 percent. That's about 366,000 Kentuckians. An additional 266,000 were pre-diabetic.

The group will meet with legislators and let them know that.

"We want them to know how serious and how costly it is," Walker said.

DeCoste said, "The message we are talking about is that diabetes is common, serious, costly and controllable."

This will be Danley's second year of visiting legislators. She said she has been impressed with how receptive they have been and how well-managed the day is.

"We want to keep as much as we can in the budget," she said, even if there are budget cuts.

Good things can be accomplished when people unite behind a common cause, Danley said.

Unfortunately, diabetes is becoming far too common a cause in Kentucky.

If the disease has touched you or someone in your life, there's still time to sign up to meet with lawmakers. Just call the Diabetes Center of Excellence at (859) 623-3462. You must register so appointments can be made with legislators.