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UI student steps up against Diabetes

BY HANNAH KRAMER | MARCH 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Many freshman college students deal with the high chances of catching mono or strep throat while living in the crowded, close living quarters of the dorms.

Less likely is the potential that one of these common illnesses spirals into developing a life-changing disease.

Sarah McCaffrey, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December 2010, got the autoimmune deficiency from an onset of mono that attacked her pancreas's beta-cells during her freshman year of college at the University of Iowa.

"When something like this happens, you can either let it bring you down or you can take advantage of it," she said.

After her diagnosis, McCaffrey began adjusting to life with diabetes as a college student. The insulin shots and dietary changes were one part of her new lifestyle, but even more difficult was finding an outlet where she could talk about how the change was an emotional challenge.

"I was having one of those bad diabetes days, and I thought 'I just need to meet other people who have it,' " she said. "I couldn't find anything [on campus]."

That's when she took matters into her own hands and created an organization on campus, Steps to a Cure, to support diabetes research and bring together students who deal with the disease or simply support the cause.

"I think she's always been very determined and interested in helping other people," said Veronica McCaffrey, Sarah's mother.

Sarah McCaffrey, who studies social work and linguistics at the UI, said she wants to provide an understanding of the disease for people who are ignorant about it, as she admits she was before her diagnosis.

"Honestly, the biggest challenge is other people and how they understand it," the 19-year-old Iowa City native said.

The Steps to a Cure organization has around 40 members, and several joined because they are friends of McCaffrey.

"I thought it was surprising that there wasn't anything remotely close to a diabetes organization," said Ryan Klingensmith, the group's treasurer and a friend of McCaffrey. "Sarah was my drive to get involved."

The 5K race last fall raised around $500, McCaffrey said, and on April 21, Steps to a Cure will host its second 5K.

McCaffrey and her team hope that the upcoming race will see even more support for the cause after the first big event. In addition to large efforts such as the 5K, the group also hosts educational talks about life with diabetes, and smaller events such as car washes to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

McCaffrey takes her recent diagnosis in an optimistic light, and she said it has taught her a lot about herself.

"I actually discovered how strong I really am," she said. "It's a lot, it's a weight, but I'm definitely a lot more empathetic and understanding and am willing to help people more now."


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