June 22, 2005
Waynesburg girl attends congressional hearing on diabetes
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — Not many kids get to hang out with the likes of Mary Tyler Moore, top Hollywood producers and world-renowned physicians and lobby their senators and congressmen during their first trip to the nation’s capital.
Emma Yerrick of Waynesburg got to do all that, as well as experience her first taxi ride on the way to the hotel from the airport.
The 9-year-old was among 150 children with diabetes from across the nation who participated in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s biennial Children’s Congress in Washington that ended Tuesday.
“I’m hoping that pretty soon they’ll find a cure if we tell them enough about having diabetes,” said Emma, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes five years ago.
The foundation invited the children and their parents to help raise awareness of the debilitating disease and lobby Congress to increase research funding in search of a cure, including federal dollars for controversial embryonic stem-cell research.
Since 1997, federal funding for diabetes research has more than tripled to more than $1 billion last year.
Emma admitted that she and the other kids were “sort of smooshed” while camped out on the floor between senators and celebrities during a Senate hearing on diabetes Tuesday.
Several of the children shared the burden of diabetes with the panel, but only after several adults presented their own testimony.
Actress Moore, a diabetic for 40 years, said she has “struggled every day of every one of those years to achieve metabolic balance between what I eat, what I do and how I feel.”
If not for surgery and other treatments, Moore would be blind from the disease, she said.
Douglas Wick, producer of the movie “Gladiator,” described his daughter’s struggles with the disease.
Another who testified was Dr. Allen M. Spiegel, director of the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, who said he hopes that a cure will be found within 10 years.
Although Emma was not among the children who testified before the Senate, she made her case later to Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville.
She described how she has to check her blood-sugar level several times a day, eat right and exercise, and every few days change the place where an insulin pump is attached to her body.
Her mother, Kelly Welker, who accompanied her, is a strong advocate of federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells, a contentious issue in Congress.
“We’re not asking to take one life for the good of another,” said Welker, who favors the use of federal dollars to support research on human embryos that otherwise would be discarded from in-vitro fertility clinics. “We’re asking to use what we have.”
Regula voted for the bill, which the House approved last month. President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, which exceeds his restrictions on federal support for embryonic stem- cell research.
DeWine, believing human embryos are potential human life, opposes the bill, which has yet to go before the Senate. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland, also opposes the bill.
Emma also found time to make new friends and tour Washington, where one of the high points was noticing Secret Service agents atop the roof of the White House.
She also enjoyed seeing dinosaur bones at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where she picked up a stuffed tiger that she proudly displayed while waiting for the Senate hearing to begin.
“It’s been a good day,” she said Tuesday, after wrapping up her meetings with Regula, DeWine and Voinovich’s staff.