When her mother was diagnosed with diabetes one hot summer day, and then her grandmother died from diabetes complications a month later, 11-year-old Genevieve Ellis didn't take it sitting down.
"I'm a Scorpio, and they hold grudges. I was mad that it had taken away my Nana," she tells viewers in a new video produced by the state Department of Health's Diabetes Prevention and Control Program.
Not one to sit by and let fear overtake her, Genevieve began asking questions that even adults don't often explore, trying to figure out what diabetes was, who gets it and how it could be controlled.
Just entering the fifth grade, she found herself talking with staffers at the Utah chapter of the American Diabetes Association. When she told them she wanted to do something — anything — to help, they suggested she design and put up posters at school, at local coffee shops and grocery stores urging people to "know your risk."
The project earned her the bronze award from the Girl Scouts of America. Encouraged by her success, she created a booth for the annual diabetes expo last spring, where more than 5,000 people at the South Towne Expo Center received information about diabetes control and prevention.
She also began working with Grant Sunada, who volunteers at the ADA, and together they set up a blog so Genevieve could share her story and ask others to share theirs. "My story is actually intertwined with my mom's," she said.
"It has a bit of a personal touch to it," she said, with photos of Genevieve, her mother and a friend who worked on the awareness effort with her. "I've spent a lot of time on it. If they counted the hours I spent thinking about it, I would have over 100 hours."
Genevieve and her blog, inspiredbydiabetes.blogspot.com, have become the centerpiece for a new public awareness campaign, "Faces of Diabetes," designed to give Utahns the information they need to either avoid or postpone contracting the disease, and to give them hope for the future if they already have it.
Sunada, health information specialist with the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, appeared with Genevieve at a press conference Wednesday, urging people to not only share their stories on the blog but also to become educated about the fact that one in 15 Utahns has diabetes and 1,000 of them die each year as a result.
The cost to fight and treat the disease in Utah alone was $920 million in 2006, he said.
"For the one in five Utahns who have pre-diabetes, education is critical. (Type II) diabetes can be prevented, and we're trying to put a face on these numbers," to create the incentive needed to get people thinking about their dietary intake and their blood glucose levels.
Laura Landon, executive director of Utah's ADA chapter, presented Genevieve with the American Diabetes Association Teaching Award during the press conference for her efforts to share her story, to warn people of the risk and to give them hope for the future.
"We can have doctors and endocrinologists speak, and people don't listen, but they listen to a 14-year-old," she said. Information on meal planning, blood glucose levels and other preventive and maintenance tips can be found at www.diabetes.org.
Those who don't have access to the Internet but would like more information about diabetes control and prevention are encouraged to ask their local librarian for help, according to Jan Elkins, a librarian with the Salt Lake County Library System, who suffers from diabetes and has helped coordinate the library information effort.
For Utah-specific information, go online to utahealthnet.utah.edu/.