14-year-old pumps out support to kids with type-1 diabetes

When Leah Fox was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes as a kid, she easily could have been overwhelmed by the challenges it created in her life. However, this sunny 14-year-old from Fort Collins, Co., instead learned about solutions for making life with diabetes easier, and created two award-winning community service projects to help other kids dealing with diabetes.

Leah, whose diabetes was diagnosed at age 7, knows from experience that managing the disease can be a real pain – literally. With type-1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to turn sugar from food into energy.

“You can’t take insulin by mouth, it is not a pill. You must take it by shots,” Leah explains. “Every time I eat I must have insulin to help my body use the food I’m eating for energy. That means lots of shots! Not fun.”

At a camp for kids with type-1 diabetes, Leah learned about an easier method for taking insulin: the insulin pump. It’s a device that can be worn on the body and acts as a source of insulin through a catheter, or tube, into the body. Using the insulin pump means that Leah doesn’t need to have shots multiple times a day.

“Life became a bit more normal and I found a new sense of freedom with the pump,” she says. “I always [have] that ready source of insulin at my side. With a few punches of keys, I let the pump know my blood sugar and carbohydrate content of food, and it [calculates] my insulin dose. Pretty slick!”

After switching to the pump, Leah saw that it makes living life with diabetes a lot easier. That’s why she was surprised at first that not every kid with type-1 diabetes has one. “After talking to some other kids with diabetes I realized that not all could afford the cost of an insulin pump. They are over $6,000! Something tugged on my heart and I knew I had to do something,” she says. That spark of inspiration led to the creation of her first fundraising project. Dragonfly Jewelry.

“I make all kinds of beaded jewelry like necklaces, earrings, bracelets, cell phone charms and bookmarks. I host jewelry open houses at my home and also get the chance to sell my jewelry in the community at school events, concerts and even the Annual Diabetes Update conference that our local hospital hosts,” Leah tells us. “Fifty percent of my sales go directly to an insulin pump scholarship fund.”

But her efforts haven’t stopped there. She started a second organization, Pennies 4 Pumps (P4Ps), to draw in more donations. Leah tells us, “The first P4Ps event challenged classes to bring in their spare change, and the winning class was rewarded with an extra P.E. day and a healthy snack.”

Pennies 4 Pumps has since gained the support of other schools and groups throughout Leah’s community. To date, over $8,000 has been raised. Leah has also been personally recognized for her volunteerism. She was named a 2011 State Honoree by the Prudential Spirit of Community awards program, which recognizes middle level and high school youth volunteers for their outstanding community service.

While Leah is proud of the widespread community involvement, what’s really special to her is the impact she has been able to have on one person.

“A little over a year ago I was able to award my first pump scholarship to a 7-year-old girl,” Leah says. “She’d had diabetes since she was one, and was getting many shots every day. Her family was disappointed to learn that their insurance would not cover the full amount of an insulin pump, [but] Pennies 4 Pumps was able to cover the rest of the payment, making a pump possible for this little girl and her family. I think that was the best day of my life!”

Seeing what she has been able to accomplish so far, Leah hopes to keep building off her efforts. She wants to expand P4Ps and her scholarship program in other schools, and is working on a website that she hopes to have up ‘n’ running soon.

Leah knows that that helping others starts with knowing yourself and what you’re passionate about. To other girls who want to serve their community, she dishes: “Discover where your interests lie. What special talents do you possess? Can you use [them] to help others? Maybe you are a soccer player. Could you organize and run a clinic for kids where the proceeds benefit a charity? Do you know a special needs child? Does that motivate you to volunteer at Special Olympics or set up lunch buddies for those kids? What inspires you?” Asking yourself such questions is a great start on the road to helping others.

If you’re interested in learning more about Pennies 4 Pumps, you can contact Leah by e-mail. “I would love to hear from you and learn from your ideas!” she says.

For more information about the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and how to apply, CLICK HERE.


by Marie Hansen | 2/1/2016