Health Advocate Fulfilling Dream of Helping Youth With Type 1 Diabetes
by TERESA SCHIFFER
It can be overwhelming for both the parents and the child when a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Careful monitoring of the diet and signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) become a primary daily concern, and the child is thrust into a world of frequent injections and potentially life-threatening symptoms.
It’s difficult to envision the amount of stress the diagnosis can cause a family. For one Central Florida woman, that stress drove her to organize a nonprofit to raise awareness of and assistance for others affected by type 1 diabetes.
Central Florida community healthcare advocate Elizabeth Forrest was just 10 years old when she was diagnosed in 1999. She recalls her initial reaction to the diagnosis, and how it ultimately affected her, saying, “When I was 10 years old and diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was a very shy child, so to add on this diagnosis, at first, made me even more reserved and shy. But fast-forward quite a bit, and it became a platform for me. At first, it was definitely very negatively impactful.”
In the beginning, she needed insulin injections several times per day. Like many people, Forrest was scared of needles, so her parents administered the injections for her, visiting her during the school days throughout the rest of her elementary and middle school years. Eventually, she was given an insulin pump that delivers insulin periodically through a thin plastic tube from a reservoir that is carried in a pocket, on a belt or attached to the skin with adhesive.
A summer visit to Camp Adam Fisher in South Carolina, a camp established in 1968 specifically for diabetic children, helped Forrest learn to cope with her condition in a supportive, educational environment while surrounded by her peers. The experience inspired her to become a voice for young people living with type 1 diabetes through social outreach programs. This was the genesis of what would become the Touched by Type 1 foundation.
Before it became Touched by Type 1, Forrest’s outreach effort was a dance program called Dancing for Diabetes that she instituted for diabetic kids in Central Florida. It all started out with a dance recital fundraiser that Forrest put on in middle school with the help of her dance teacher Holley Ricker and encouragement from the administrators at Millennium Middle School in Seminole County. It was a small show that raised money to donate to local diabetes organizations. From that grew the free, weekly dance program, Dancing for Diabetes.
By 2013, Forrest was offering not only the dance program, but outreach events, bowling events, golf tournaments, conferences, and support groups, so it was time to formalize her project as a 501(c)(3). In 2020, she rebranded the organization from Dancing for Diabetes to Touched by Type 1.
“We see the impact every day on those who have type 1 diabetes locally, but beyond that as well,” Forrest says of her foundation’s influence. “The kids’ and teens’ dance program is creating that safe and fun environment for kids to have fun but also connect with others who have diabetes, and it provides that networking opportunity for families to create those support groups together and those networks.”
Touched by Type 1 also helps families get the information and resources they need to live their best lives despite the constraints of diabetes by connecting them with top health professionals. Forrest explains, “Our annual conference is held in the spring and that is pulling in diabetes experts from around the country that fly in and speak on different topics such as insulin accessibility, insurance, pregnancy, exercise, diabetes in school, every topic that you can think of that most people take for granted, but when you have type 1 diabetes, these become major topics in your life every day.”
Another program offered by Touched by Type 1 is called Type 1 at School. Forrest explains the concept, “Our organization provides free resources and materials to public, private, and charter school systems that have students with type 1 diabetes. We have nurse practitioners that have created the program that is available for anyone in education to reach out to us and obtain a digital copy of. It’s really educating the educators on type 1 diabetes because, for the most part, when school starts, teachers, bus drivers and administrators at a school get a list of which students have type 1 diabetes, but there’s really no education on what that means and how they can best care for their students with type 1.”
The Type 1 at School program fills in those gaps so that school staff are more informed about how to manage student care, emergency situations, and have a better understanding of the devices used by students with type 1 diabetes. This instructional program has already spread from Central Florida to schools throughout the nation.
Elizabeth Forrest and the volunteers at Touched by Type 1 are doing incredible work for the diabetic youth community not just locally, but nationwide now, as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the organization to create more online engagement. All this because one shy young girl received a life-altering diagnosis more than 20 years ago and made it her personal mission to make sure that other kids like her would have the support and recognition they needed to thrive.