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Scott and Katie Bruun advocate for diabetes funding and awareness

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Scott and Katie Bruun stand outside the Lakewood Center in Lake Oswego, where Katie practices ballet. The day that changed Scott Bruun’s life began innocently enough.

His family was vacationing in Sunriver last summer, and his oldest daughter, Natalie, came downstairs in the morning to complain about her younger sister, Katie. Because the two were sharing a bunk bed, it could have been any sort of normal sisterly quarrel.

But this wasn’t normal. Katie, according to an exasperated Natalie, had gotten up seven times during the previous night to go to the bathroom.

An all-too-familiar radar signal suddenly perked up in Bruun’s head. Afflicted with Type 1 diabetes since the age of 15, Bruun knew this was one of the warning signs. It had been a few years since Katie’s blood sugar levels had been measured, so he decided to test her right then and there.

When the reading came back, Bruun lost his breath and fell backward. He later compared it to being stabbed in the chest.

Katie’s blood sugar level was 310, three times the normal range of between 90 and 120. They rushed her to the emergency room, where it was made official: Katie, too, had Type 1 diabetes.

That was almost a year ago. In the time between then and now, there was fear and anger, of course, but also acceptance. And with that acceptance came the drive to fight back.

Scott and Katie Bruun traveled to Salem and Washington, D.C., in March to share their stories and advocate for an increase in funding for diabetes research. In Washington, as part of the American Diabetes Association’s Call to Congress event, the father and daughter met with U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader, as well as staff from the offices of Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden. A week later, in Salem for Diabetes Day at the Capitol, they shared a “state of diabetes” presentation with local legislators in both the House and Senate Health Care Committees.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Katie Bruun practices ballet while wearing a Stop Diabetes shirt.

Though Bruun himself is a former representative of District 37 in the Oregon House of Representatives, Katie proved to be the star of this show.

“She was very nervous, but she was poised,” Bruun said. “And I think she struck a nerve with people.”

Indeed, one of the senators Katie testified to, Chip Shields, approached the pair afterward and said it was the best testimony he had heard all day.

“We can talk about the numbers, we can talk about the bills,” Bruun said. “But here’s the human phase of what it means.”

The numbers, though, are frightening. A total of 25 million people in the United States are afflicted with diabetes, with 3 million sharing Scott and Katie Bruun’s Type 1 diagnosis. Diabetes is one of the costliest diseases in the state of Oregon at almost $3 billion annually, and at a national level the United States spends about $245 billion each year on diabetes treatment.

What the Bruuns are fighting for is simple: an investment toward a cure.

“I call it a medical moonshot,” Bruun said. “But the federal government is the only entity that could find a cure.”

It would not be easy, and Bruun himself admits that such an endeavor would likely take a minimum of 10 years. And in uncertain economic times, legislators are hesistant to support such uncertain projects.

“I’m sure it’s going to be really expensive,” Bruun said. “But it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what this country spends on diabetes treatment.”

There are also more immediate concerns, especially at the state level. About 248,200 Oregonians suffer from diabetes, and the economic climate leaves many — especially those on Medicaid — vulnerable to cuts in medication, supplies and education.

“Those things are in jeopardy every legislative session,” Bruun said.

Yet he came away impressed with the way he and Katie were received, and hopeful that Oregon legislators did, in fact, realize the importance of this cause.

“My hat really goes off to the Oregon delegation,” Bruun said. “My sense is that the Oregon delegation is ahead of the curve in understanding cost and life issues involved with diabetes.”

Regardless of upcoming legislation and policy pushes, Katie has still been forced to adjust gradually to the realities of life since that fateful day last summer — the five shots and seven to eight blood tests every day, the constant fear of her blood sugar being too high or too low.

Because she looks healthy, it is hard for some people to understand the severity of her disease, and that can be frustrating too. Still, Katie wasted no time last year organizing a group of her friends to raise $600 for the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. This summer, she’ll work to raise much more.

“I didn’t come up with this quote, but I read it years ago: ‘From disease you learn much that life couldn’t teach you any other way,’ ” Scott Bruun said. “That’s the blessing within the challenge of this very cruel disease.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Scott and Katie Bruun stand outside the United States Capitol building during their trip on behalf of the 'Call to Congress' event in early March.