Pennsylvania Lawmakers Call for Type 1 Education

Last month, North Carolina lawmakers passed the first state legislation to boost screening for Type 1 diabetes. Now, Pennsylvania state house members have passed a unanimous resolution to encourage “all health care practitioners in this Commonwealth to educate and discuss the warning signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes with the parents or guardians of each child under their care.” While the resolution does not have the force of law, it is another step in raising awareness among medical professionals and lawmakers of the dangers of undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes.

As with most successful diabetes advocacy campaigns, this resolution was championed by concerned parents. Debbie Healy is a diabetes mom and an honor roll supporter of the Lehigh Valley’s American Diabetes Association walk-a-thon event. It was her son’s brush with near fatal diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) that got her into the fight. One evening while she was out working, she checked in with her then 17-year old via text, since he’d stayed out of school with what was thought to have been a sinus infection. She described what happened next on a Facebook post:

“My son responded to my text by saying: ‘I’m in the basement.’ So when I got home, I went down to the basement. The lights were off. I told him that he needed to come upstairs so I could see and talk to him. He came upstairs, and … that’s when I knew we had a medical emergency! How did I know? He did not look like my son. He had a sunken-in look to him. … We took him to Lehigh Valley Hospital…while in the ER, a nurse did a finger-prick blood test. The glucometer measured 600.”

That was as high as the particular glucometer could measure. Her son was admitted and given an IV for dehydration, as well as another blood test. This time, his blood sugar levels measured at 1400 mg/dL, again the highest the device could read. He was in a DKA state:

“If we had waited one more day or even just an hour longer to seek medical treatment, we might have lost our son,” she wrote.

She and another mom, Karen Lantz, started a Facebook group, PA Residents for Diabetes Legislative Reform, and began to contact legislators. They focused on five initiatives:

  • better parent education about Type 1 diabetes
  • a required urine or finger-prick blood glucose test for every child who presents to a care provider with a complaint of illness, as diabetes can mimic other conditions that send children to the emergency room
  • better education for school children about Type 1 diabetes
  • strengthened clinical and continuing education requirements for medical personnel about diabetes and DKA
  • required screening for islet cell autoimmunity of children who appear symptomatic or have diabetes in their ancestry

The resolution provides forward progress on the first part of the five-part plan; Healy’s next step is to pass the same type of legislation in the state senate and convince the governor to make the proclamation, as well. In an interview with Insulin Nation, Healy has pledged to push for legislation that addresses the other four parts of the plan, as well.

While neither the North Carolina legislation nor the Pennsylvania legislation mandate testing for Type 1 diabetes, both are hailed by diabetes advocates as a good start to addressing the grave threat of undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes.

This article has been corrected. An editorial error misidentified the other state to pass diabetes legislation as Florida; it was North Carolina. 

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Jim Cahill is a former staff writer for Insulin Nation and a former editor of Type 2 nation.

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