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May 5, 2016

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Las Vegas girl to testify before Congress on diabetes research

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Jacqi Hammel at the Ride to Cure Diabetes in Tuscon, Ariz., in 2010.

Beyond the Sun

Two years ago, Jacqi Hammel was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12. When she heard the news, she said she felt almost nothing but anger. When friends tried to talk with her about the condition, she rebuffed them.

Hammel wanted to be normal. Then one day, she said, something clicked: instead of becoming upset, she would try to educate people about a disease that more than 15,000 children are diagnosed with each year.

Those efforts culminated when Hammel, now a sophomore at Clark High School, was selected as one of 150 delegates for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to testify before Congress in June.

“I was so upset. I thought ‘I exercise all the time. How did this happen to me?’” said Hammel, who will represent the Las Vegas chapter of the JDRF at the hearing. “When I woke up one day, I said… instead of getting mad at people, I’m going to teach them.

“They need to see that I’m just like them.”

In Washington, Hammel will speak about the need for continued research for Type 1 diabetes as part of the JDRF’s biannual Children’s Congress. She will also appear in a series of advertisements to raise awareness on behalf of the organization.

She has been able to live largely as a normal teenage girl. She bikes, she swims. Last year, she rode 109 miles as part of a Ride to Cure Diabetes event and raised about $11,000 toward new research.

Her family, friends and school have been supportive, she said, making the hassle of checking her blood sugar and taking insulin regularly easier to bear. Her mom, Elizabeth Hammel, said, “it’s been a relief” to watch Jacqi’s attitude change since she was diagnosed.

“That first year was extremely difficult. It’s a constant worry as a parent,” Elizabeth Hammel said. “Instead of her having the disease, I would have rather had the disease than see her go through all this. It hurts today still.”

Jacqi Hammel said she’s “a little bit nervous” about taking the podium in front of the country’s lawmakers, but more than anything, she’s excited about the opportunity to spread the word.

“I’m helping so many people that don’t have a voice or are scared to talk about it,” she said.

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