September 18, 2019

Diabetes Youth Ambassador Heads to Washington

Teddy Silverman, seen with his sister, travels to Washington, D.C., next month with JDRF to lobby Congress for diabetes research funds. Photo courtesy of Teddy Silverman

When he was in fifth grade, Teddy Silverman started waking up at night repeatedly to drink water and use the bathroom. His parents thought it might be part of a ploy to get out of school. But when he started doing something similar in his after-school bar mitzvah prep class, his teacher, Rabbi Eric Morgenstern of Kehillah Chen v’Chesed, thought something might be seriously amiss. He suspected Silverman had diabetes, because he has diabetes himself.

The next day, Silverman’s parents took him to his pediatrician, who confirmed the rabbi’s suspicion. Silverman, now 17 and heading into his senior year of high school, said at the time his blood sugar was 678. “The average is 80 to 120,” he said. The Encino resident spent the next three days at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His parents never left his side.

“I am the first person in my family to have diabetes,” Silverman said. Consequently, his parents weren’t familiar with the symptoms. Furthermore, myths abound about the disease. Among the most ingrained: Only overweight people get diabetes. Silverman was and is thin and athletic. 

“Type 1 diabetes is what I have,” he said. “No one’s really sure how you get it. Your pancreas does not work.”

For Silverman and his parents, the diagnosis meant significant changes. There were a lot of “very strict rules,” he said, rules about what he could eat and when, and how often he had to test his blood sugar. His parents also had to give him between eight and 10 insulin shots each day. After practicing on a toy bear, Silverman eventually learned to do it himself. These days, he generally has to check his blood sugar levels five to 10 times a day with a finger prick. And he gives himself six to 10 shots of insulin every day. 

“The goal is to get more people to know and understand the daily effects of living with diabetes.” 

— Teddy Silverman

But diabetes hasn’t stopped him from doing what he loves. He plays competitive lacrosse, participates in mock trials, plays piano, will be the vice president of his senior class next year and, like many teens, likes hanging with his friends. 

There are challenges, however. “The biggest thing I find hard for myself is the pride thing on a sports field and the embarrassment in a classroom,” he said. Specifically, telling his lacrosse coaches he needs to take a break during practices or games, or having to interrupt a teacher mid-lecture because he needs to step out.

“They all understand,” he said. “But still, in the back of your head …”

Last year, Silverman successfully applied to become a youth ambassador for JDRF (formermely the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), a nonprofit that funds Type 1 diabetes research. In this capacity, he volunteers at local events and provides a face for diabetes. “The goal is to get more people to know and understand the daily effects of living with diabetes,” he said. “Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in America.”

On July 8, Silverman and 159 other youths representing all 50 states and five countries will travel to Washington, D.C., as part of the JDRF 2019 Children’s Congress. (Silverman was among several thousand who applied to participate.) There, the delegates will share their own stories of living with diabetes with members of Congress and advocate for the continuation of the Special Diabetes Program, which provides $150 million a year in funding for diabetes research but is set to expire on Sept. 30. Ultimately, the hope is that this research will yield a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Until then, Silverman has some advice for parents of children newly diagnosed with the disease. While his own parents were supportive and let him continue playing competitive sports, he often sees something very different. “A lot of times, when kids get diabetes, parents go into panic mode and stop letting them do things,” Silverman said. “They should be able to do the things they love and care about and are passionate about.”