By: Michael Connors Issue: Transformation Section: Community
Treat, Prevent and Curet
As a parent, I know there is nothing I would not do for my child. We gravitate to what we have experienced and understand, and as humans, we grasp for solutions when one of our own is afflicted with any type of disease or disorder. We simply want to fix it.
So it is, as well, with parents of children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes or T-1 (formerly juvenile diabetes) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s antibodies attack beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin—a protein that normally breaks down in the stomach. It is a disease on the rise.
According to Dr. Robert Slovner, director of Pediatric Services at the Barbara Davis Research Center in Aurora, Colorado, a premier diabetes research hospital: “Type 1 diabetes probably affects about 1.5 million, perhaps as many as 2 million people in this country. We’ve seen an increase in this type of diabetes over the past decade—in fact we’ve seen it grow at about 4 percent a year. And we’ve also seen it affect younger and younger children, so it is quite common now to see children under the age of two who develop Type 1 diabetes. That was not so common ten years ago.” To be certain, the need is urgent, as is the need for funds for research. This is where companies such as Wagner Equipment Co. step in and work with organizations like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), whose role is to fund research to find a cure.
For Bruce Wagner, owner and CEO of Wagner Equipment, a large Caterpillar dealer covering Colorado, New Mexico and western Texas, there is a deep and personal connection to T-1 diabetes. His son, Taylor, has T-1 diabetes, and while he is no longer a child, he is still afflicted with the disease. In fact, 81 percent of those with T-1 diabetes are adults with lifelong symptoms and consequences. Wagner shared some of the history of their involvement with the JDRF: “About 25 months after our youngest child Taylor was born, he was diagnosed with diabetes. We decided pretty early on that we wanted to hitch our wagon to an organization that was trying to cure diabetes, and that’s what JDRF was doing.” His wife, Barbara, actually self-diagnosed her own diabetes, recognizing her own symptoms after her exposure to Taylor. Thus it is that Wagner, like so many other individuals and business owners has galvanized his resources and is intensely focused on a cure, hence the partnership with the JDRF.
From such passion come truly innovative and collaborative models. Wagner Equipment is one of hundreds of businesses that have come to recognize the financial, social and personal benefits that arise from working with an organization like the JDRF. And leaders like Wagner bring passion, concern and a voice to the cause. The business helps fund the research and firmly believes that it is good business to advance medical solutions for the benefit of the society at large—as you are then promoting a healthier and happier workforce, and one with better morale because they are committed to a cause.
“There is a large cost to diabetes. For a company of 100 employees it’s about $60,000 a year—which doesn’t sound like a lot—but to a company of 2,000 employees it’s about $1.1-$1.2 million dollars,” Wagner says. In fact, the company sponsors and encourages events throughout the year in order to raise funds for JDRF, which has a threefold benefit to businesses. The collaboration helps reduce long-term health costs by helping to fund cures for common illnesses; working with charities gives employees a sense that they are part of something larger than themselves and helps build teamwork and morale; and finally, it is simply the right thing to do.
One of Wagner’s employees serves as the current president of the local chapter of the JDRF. Jeff Gartz is the lab manager for the company and he notes that “Because of the new initiatives and the progress JDRF has made with research, the push is now Treat, Prevent and Cure—it is a three legged stool and the cornerstone of what we are doing. If you can keep people from getting T-1, the cure is that much more self-evident.” Gartz argues that JDRF is a linchpin that helps connect donors to worthwhile research facilities and is passionate about finding a cure. In fact, according to JDRF, more than 80 percent of its expenditures directly support research and education. They elaborate on the progress being made in several areas, including a better understanding of the causes of the disease, the importance of glucose control, new drug developments and the improvement of pump technology. So in many ways, the JDRF is a catalyst to a cure.
Emerging from the collaborative relationship between Wagner and JDRF are the financial benefits that can then be allocated to the researchers actually doing the work, such as the Barbara Davis Research Center. It is this unique trifecta that helps push forward some of the remarkable successes that have been made over the last decade. The funding and leadership provided by the JDRF is absolutely critical to finding a cure, says Slovner. “The Barbara Davis Center has a foundation called the Children’s Diabetes Foundation that has provided some financial support for us to do research and see patients. In our climate, though, that wouldn’t even begin to cover the needs, especially for research. So in the beginning the JDRF was a major partner with us in providing the funding and support for ongoing research in autoimmune diseases, in finding a cure, and in the development of the artificial pancreas. They have been partners in many areas. A great deal of our research is funded by the JDRF.” Thus, private companies and individuals sacrifice, time, talent and resources to fund and support organizations like the JDRF, which then, in turn, direct and fund critical research which leads to advancements in medicine that transform the quality of our lives.
Dr. Slovner also heads the artificial pancreas program at the Barbara Davis Research Center. Essentially, the artificial pancreas is the convergence of advancements in both pump technologies and more accurate monitoring systems. He describes some of the advancements in the technology, saying, “The closed-loop pancreas or bionic pancreas is a functioning glucose meter which sends needed glucoses minute-by-minute to a computer with a mathematic algorithm. This computer then learns as it goes and directs the pump to deliver or not deliver insulin thereby controlling the blood sugar levels. It’s a closed-loop method.” He notes that in 1997 the JDRF felt that this technology could help lead to a cure, so they developed the Artificial Pancreas Consortium. It is now an international effort where groups from all over the world meet to chart a road forward and minimize the effects on everyday life.
“The wonderful news is that we can be open and honest with children afflicted with the disease. Today, we tell patients that this could be a lifetime disease, but it is imminently treatable,” said Slovner. But, by following treatment, patients now see a better quality of life where the complications of the disease may be completely avoided, transforming their outlook and their life.
Such assurances were not possible only a few years ago, but with the collaborative nature of Wagner, JDRF and The Barbara Davis Center, companies can learn a thing or two about community engagement focused on a relevant issue and the change-making skills of those who are driven to make a difference. The future looks bright!