A New Voice for the Cause
Tesch West, 16, brings personal experience to the job of ADA's National Youth Advocate
When Tesch West formed an after-school debate group at her Salt Lake City high school, she probably didn't know that she would soon be tapped to take her powers of persuasion to the national level. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10, Tesch, now 16, was recently named the new National Youth Advocate for the American Diabetes Association.
She's already served as her state's ADA youth ambassador, tirelessly promoting the cause on radio and TV in her home state of Utah, and speaking at major events like the Association's Community Volunteer and Leadership Conference this past November. In her new role, Tesch will travel around the country encouraging children and adults to get involved with advocacy at ADA, and will work with policymakers to increase awareness of ADA's advocacy priorities. Already, Tesch has met with both Utah senators, her congressman, and leaders in the diabetes community. "I really want to try to highlight education," she says, "not just for people who live with diabetes, but for everyone else." She will also be promoting Planet D, an umbrella for all of ADA's resources, programs, and initiatives devoted to youth with diabetes (see box, p. 66). Tesch's own education owes a great deal to her mom, Libby Arias. When Tesch was diagnosed, Arias made it her business to learn as much as possible about diabetes. Before long, she was working on ADA events and programs, and today she chairs the Utah ADA's Family Resource Network, which helps families after a new diabetes diagnosis, especially parents of kids diagnosed with type 1. "She has done so much to teach me what it takes in life to really make a difference," Tesch says. "You have to be brave and willing to take risks, and be willing to stand up and voice your opinion even if it's not the same as everyone else's."
become a diabetes advocate
Taking action in the fight against diabetes has never been easier. Get involved in the American Diabetes Association's efforts to:
- Increase funding for diabetes research and prevention programs
- Improve health care and insurance coverage
- End discrimination based on a person's diabetes
Go to http://advocacy.diabetes.org. To receive updates from the Association about important public policy issues, be sure to click on the "Become a Diabetes Advocate" link.
As a teenager, Tesch has a particularly close-up view of the difficulties faced by people with diabetes. When she was younger, she says, "I always felt like I was the one in charge of my disease. I can test my blood sugar and give insulin and count carbs." But growing up has, surprisingly, made that harder, not easier: "Hormones are throwing my blood sugars haywire," Tesch explains. She'd already spent years figuring out things like how to work ice cream into her meal plan (no small feat), even when the carb content in different brands can vary widely. Or how an hour into swimming she needs to get out of the pool and eat 4 carbs to keep up her blood glucose for the workout. Now she has to make those kinds of calculations all over again.
Given these new variables, Tesch stresses the importance of being prepared. She's always stocked with glucose tablets and a glucagon kit. Her mother and sisters—Kalyn, 18, and Amy, 14—know how to administer the glucagon shot should they need to. Tesch hopes that in her role she can help ADA achieve its goal to get people around the country to look at diabetes differently. "We're trying to refocus the idea of diabetes—we're all people living with diabetes," Tesch says. "My family has been just as affected as I have. We fight together for the same cause."