Amazing Grace

This teen is up against a challenge … so she took her fight all the way to Washington, D.C.

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  • Written by
    Kelly Dawson

When Grace Walker was 12 years old, strange things started to happen. She was losing weight. She felt a constant thirst. She always needed to use the bathroom. Grace wasn’t sure how to explain these changes, but her mom had an inclination that turned out to be correct: Grace had type 1 diabetes.

This discovery was such a turning point in her life that Grace remembers the exact date–December 19, 2009–and she also recalls what she did when she found out it was true. She sought advice from her big brother, who was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child.

“I learned that you have to be strong about it,” she says about that conversation with her brother, Ryan Walker, who is four years older. “I try to be brave like he is.”

More than 1 million Americans may have type 1 diabetes, and it is often diagnosed between childhood and young adulthood. It occurs when a person’s pancreas stops creating insulin, which then prohibits the body from getting energy from food.

In the five years since Grace began treating her diabetes, she has learned how to balance bravery with normalcy. She needs to check her blood sugar level throughout the day, so she has to give herself five or six shots before she goes to sleep. She knows when her blood sugar is low, because she feels dizzy and begins to shake. When her blood sugar is high, she feels dehydrated and nauseous.

"Some of the kids were able to speak, and it was really cool to be able to hear their stories and see what they’ve been able to accomplish while struggling with diabetes.”

Grace has been constantly aware of her body since the sixth grade, and she says that it can be a challenge. “There are days when I do get it right, but there are also times when I forget to test. It is hard to remember. You don’t get a break from it.”

Although this autoimmune disease can be difficult, Grace finds strength in discussing it. This past July, she was selected by JDRF, the largest funder of type 1 diabetes research in the world, to attend the Children’s Congress—a three-day conference in Washington, D.C. While she was there, Grace shared the details of her daily life with senators and representatives alongside 162 other delegates from every state and throughout the world.

These meetings led up to a congressional hearing about increasing federal money to continued research and treatments. Grace and the delegates were there to advocate for two bills that would make continuous glucose monitors covered by Medicare for seniors.

“When they’re faced with a tough vote for funding a program or looking at positive policy that impacts diabetes, they really do remember these kids who came to visit them in Washington,” says Brian Johnston, the director of grassroots for JDRF advocacy, about legislators who met with the Children’s Congress.

The kids have plenty to take away from the visit too. Grace says there are fewer than a handful of kids who have diabetes at her high school, but through JDRF she’s befriended dozens. She also met with “TID role models,” like Este Haim of the popular pop-rock band Haim, which Brian says empowers kids to still pursue their dreams.

But the biggest goal of this event is to give these children the confidence to stick up for themselves and their peers. “Some of the kids were able to speak, and it was really cool to be able to hear their stories and see what they’ve been able to accomplish while struggling with diabetes,” Grace says.

Grace has many plans for her future—like acting in more plays during her senior year and eventually going to college—but she also wants to carry on the message of support and progress from the Children’s Congress. After all, this lesson wasn’t first taught to her over the summer. She learned it a long time ago from her brother, and her trip to Washington widened her perspective.  

“He gave me a lot of words of encouragement and he told me what you have to do to live a healthy life,” Grace says. “I think a lot of kids don’t have that, so I would love to do that for them.”