In most regards, Adriana Richard, of Milton, is a typical 16-year-old. She’s learning how to drive, loves to take photos, babysits and enjoys spending time with friends.
Some might say one thing that sets her apart is that she deals with Type 1 diabetes. But others will say what makes her truly unique is the strength she has shown to not only daily fight the condition, but to advocate tirelessly for a cure.
Richard was recently chosen to represent central Pennsylvania on a delegation of 160 youth from across the United States who will be advocating for continued funding for Type 1 diabetes research in Washington, D.C., this summer.
Diagnosed when she was only five years old, Richard said she had been losing a lot of weight, had no appetite, and was always drinking. When her mom, Kristy Richard, realized how sick she was, she took her to the doctor and received the difficult news. From then on, it’s been a battle.
“It’s definitely been difficult,” Richard said. “I’ve been hospitalized, separated from normal kids.” But, she said, “I realized it’s made me who I am.”
On Capitol Hill
Along with the other delegates, ages 4 to 17 and representing all 50 states, Richard will take part in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) 2019 Children’s Congress from July 8 to 10. JDRF is the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Type 1 diabetes research.
Delegates are chosen by an independent committee consisting of JDRF volunteers from across the country. More than 1,300 applications were received. Richard was chosen to represent the central Pennsylvania Chapter of JDRF, which executive director Natasha Lewis said encompasses 24 counties from Tioga to Bradford in the north and Bedford, Franklin, Fulton, Adams, York and Lancaster in the south.
Lewis said the delegates will participate in several activities on Capitol Hill, including a Congressional Committee hearing “to share personal testimonies that highlight the challenges of living with Type 1 diabetes and the need for continued funding for research projects such as Special Diabetes Program (SDP).”
According to Lewis, the first Children’s Congress was held in 1999 and has been held every other year since then. The goal, she said, “is for the delegates to lobby their Members of Congress to remind them of the vital need to continue supporting Type 1 diabetes research that could reduce the burden of this disease and ultimately find a cure.”
Lewis described Richard as “an incredible young woman.” She has been a member of the chapter’s Teen Task Force for a number of years, and also wrote a book, “The Real T1D,” about her experiencing growing up with the condition.
Richard said she wrote the book “to share my journey so that others going through what they may think is the worst, know there is always a better solution.”
“I’ve had many situations where I let diabetes get the best of me and have learned from my mistakes,” she added. “Diabetes is just a part of me, it isn’t who I am. I want kids or adults who are going through that to know there is a way out, and there are people who will help you with open arms.”
The book is currently available on amazon.com in eBook and paperback formats.
Stress and strength
Two years ago, Richard’s blood sugar rose to dangerous levels, and she was admitted to the hospital.
“They told me if I keep doing this, I was going to have some serious problems,” she said.
That’s when she started taking it more seriously. She tests her blood sugar and takes insulin every time she eats. When she’s not eating, she has to watch her numbers closely, making sure they don’t go too high or low. The constant need for monitoring has created some embarrassment. Having to carry with her a device that takes glucose readings, she said it alerted her once during class.
“Everyone just looked at me,” she said. “Someone asked if a bomb went off.”
Not only has it been stressful for Richard, but it has been difficult for her parents.
“As a parent, it is hard to watch the many different levels of this disease,” said her father, Joshua Richard. “From the lows during the night and not knowing whether she will wake up, or to the highs and seeing her very sick.”
But at the same time, they have been inspired by the way she’s learned to rise above the difficulties.
“She has made sure she has control of diabetes and diabetes doesn’t have control of her,” he said.
When Richard was chosen by JDRF to represent central Pennsylvania, Joshua said he and his wife, Kristy, were “shocked when we got the letter in the mail.”
“While we knew she would be a great advocate, we also knew there were many others who applied. We are very proud of her wanting to turn Type One into Type None.”
Richard said she feels honored to have been chosen to represent central Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C., this summer. She’s already working on projects and fundraisers to prepare for her trip.
“I want to use my voice instead of staying quiet about things,” she said. “It’s made me a stronger person.”
And she wants to help others become stronger, too.
“Always think that things are going to get better,” she says to others who are struggling with Type 1 diabetes. “I know a lot of things don’t look good when you’re in the middle of a situation. But there is always a good in every bad.”
And to those who may not be familiar with the condition, she urges making an effort to be more understanding. “Diabetes is a 24-hour thing,” she said. “We don’t get any breaks. The support we get from people who aren’t diabetic really means a lot to us.”
Richard is currently taking classes through SusQ-Cyber Charter School, where she is studying a year ahead and plans to graduate next year, when she’ll also be enrolled at Bloomsburg University. She also continues to fundraise and advocate with JDRF.
After graduation, Richard said she plans to attend Shippensburg University and major in childhood education, with a special emphasis on special education.