Palmetto High School senior Caitlyn Chong’s Girl Scout Gold Award project is something that is dear to her.
“I put together baskets for children who had just been diagnosed with diabetes and delivered them to doctor’s offices, hospitals and different diabetes charities,” she says. “For the younger children, the literature may not be as alluring but the teddy bear is comforting.”
She created 40-50 baskets and is still working on new ones, but at a slower pace.
“I got to give one myself to a little boy who had been just diagnosed,” she says.
For the project she contacted drug companies that deal with type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes.
“I asked for all their promotional products,” she says. “They all have tools for carb counting, measuring cups, teddy bears, children’s books on diabetes. The patients love them. I’m still working on getting someone to fill that gap when I graduate.”
The project is important to her because she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes halfway through her freshman year.
It’s unusual to be diagnosed with type 1 at age 14.
“Between infancy and 12 years old is when most people are diagnosed with it,” Chong says. “I have no family history of diabetes. It was very out of the blue.”
She ended up in the emergency room because of dehydration. While waiting for discharge she watched a public service announcement about diabetes.
“I noticed I had a bunch of symptoms,” she says. “I was extremely lethargic. Drinking constantly. I lost a lot of weight. And my eyesight changed.”
Chong says she’s fortunate she found a lot of people her age that are also living with diabetes. Now some of them are her best friends.
“I’m lucky I had a very good support system while I was going through that,” she says.
At this point, she is on an insulin pump, which dispenses insulin as needed. It took two years to get on the pump – Chong says they don’t like to have newly diagnosed patients on the pump until the diabetes is well regulated.
Chong is involved in advocacy with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.
“I talk to representatives, senators and congressmen,” she says. “I ask them to support diabetes.”
She has met with lawmakers locally. She’s talked to Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart.
Living with diabetes has become the norm and has not kept her from having a normal life.
“There are days that are frustrating that you have to take a sick day and deal with it and work on your numbers,” she says. “It’s frustrating that I have to miss school. As long as I do a good job of managing my numbers and keeping things under control, it doesn’t limit me in any way.”
At Palmetto, she is secretary of the Capstone program. As a member of the board, she’s hoping to be involved in the tutoring program at Perrine Elementary once again.
“I tutored the kindergartners,” she says. “I had a fun bunch. That’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to doing again.”
She’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society and Tri M, the music honor society.
Chong took music theory at school. Outside of school, she plays the piano.
Chong has been accepted to the University of Central Florida, which is her top choice in state choice. She’s still working on other applications. Her goal is to take pre-med and become an endocrinologist.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld