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Sweet Victories

May 20, 2010 By:
David C. Friedman, JE Feature
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Lee Ducat
In 1965, at the age of 9, Lee Ducat's son, Larry, was diagnosed with the most pernicious form of diabetes, Type 1, or Juvenile Diabetes, a disease in which the pancreas is unable to produce enough needed insulin on its own.

Ducat, unhappy with the diagnosis, decided to become proactive, and embarked on a mission that began with the founding of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in 1970 -- and perhaps defined her life for the next 40 years.

Her son's doctor, the late Dr. Robert Kaye at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, had told Ducat that "if we had enough funding, we could cure diabetes."

Her reply: "If it's only money, we will get the money we need."

The physician provided Ducat with a list of Type 1 diabetic patients, whom she invited with their families to a cocktail party in her suburban Philadelphia home. On May 21, 1970 -- at that party -- the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation was founded.

Now called the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the organization maintains a national headquarters in New York, and has more than 100 chapters in countries throughout the world, including Israel.

Ducat served as president of the JDF until 1976, and then was appointed to the board of directors. She is currently a member of its board of chancellors. Not content to rest on past achievements, she founded the National Disease Research Interchange in 1980 and the DDRI Type 1 Registry in 1988.

For her efforts in leading the organization, Ducat is set to be honored at the JDRF's 40th anniversary gala, Saturday, May 22, at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. "In the 30 years since NDRI was established, we recovered donated tissues for just about every disease, including several diabetes projects," she said.

"At the time we began, everyone thought diabetes had been cured with the discovery of insulin," she recalled of the mistaken impression. "Insulin allowed our children to live, and still does, but it was not a cure."

Perception a Problem
Chapters were developed, and an organized effort began.

But another means of raising awareness was through a legislative effort, said Ducat.

And so she contacted Richard Schweiker, at the time one of Pennsylvania's U.S. senators.

"He was convinced this was a good effort, and he and I worked in tandem over the first 10 years to pass one piece of legislation after another which would establish the Diabetes Commission," she explained.

That led to the creation of the National Diabetes Advisory Board.

Despite its name, juvenile diabetes is not strictly limited to children, pointed out Ducat.

"It may be contracted later in life, up to age 50," she said.

Although, she added, "most cases occur in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood.

Ducat's constant battle to find a cure for diabetes has earned her many honors. She has also received an honorary doctorate from Women's Medical College and, most recently, was named a "Distinguished Daughter of the State of Pennsylvania."

However, it is the May 22 recognition from her own organization that she said she would cherish the most.

"It probably means more to me than any [other honor] I have gotten in the past," she said.

By the way, Larry, now 52, lives in Austin, Texas, where he works in the same business as his late father, Edwin Ducat.

"He is building hospitals, medical centers and medical office buildings," said his mother.

Although her initial goal of finding a cure for diabetes has not yet been accomplished, Ducat believes that the day is getting closer.

"I always felt that if we helped one child or one parent or one family, creating the organization would have been enough," she said.

For more information on the May 22 gala, as well as research, go to: www.jdrf.org/philadelphia.

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