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As a professional race car driver, I've faced my fair share of barriers and close calls. Whether it's competing in a high-stakes race or avoiding a high-speed crash, I'm able to overcome many challenges through hard work and determination. But no amount of hard work could have prepared me for my biggest challenge yet: being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes just as my racing career was taking off.
The first doctor I consulted thought my Type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis would end my racing career, but I didn't give up. I found ways to cope with the disease. Every day, I battle to manage my blood sugar levels while competing. If my blood sugar rises too high, I can have blurry vision, fatigue, thirst, dizziness or confusion. If it falls too low, I can have headaches, trembling, and could go unconscious or have a seizure. Racing makes these risks even more dangerous since everything happens at a much higher speed. A few seconds of dizziness could mean the difference between crossing the finish line and crashing my car into the wall. To stay safe, I have to monitor my blood sugar levels at all times. By keeping a glucose monitor on my steering wheel and an insulin shot in the pit area, I've been able to stay ahead of my fiercest opponent, T1D.
Researchers have been racing to find new treatments for diabetes, a disease that affects 26 million Americans. They have made so much progress in understanding diabetes that now there are better ways to treat it, and we are so much closer to curing and preventing the disease altogether. That's why I am so concerned we may be about to hit the brakes on this progress.
One of the reasons that diabetes treatments have improved so much is the Special Diabetes Program. Since 1997, the SDP has funded critical research that helps people with diabetes live longer, healthier lives. The SDP is up for renewal this year, and future progress will stall out if Congress doesn't act quickly to extend the program. Waiting too long to renew the SDP could cause promising research projects to slow or shut down altogether. If that happens, people like me with diabetes won't get the improved and potentially lifesaving treatments this program is ready to produce in the next couple of years.
Diabetes places a huge burden on our country. It's the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults and amputations unrelated to injuries. It's a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, and contributes to more than 230,000 deaths a year. Making matters worse, between 2001 and 2009, T1D rose by 23 percent in my peers under the age of 20. I'm 19 years old and a race car driver, so not much frightens me, but these statistics are scary and we have to pay attention to them. If we don't reverse this trend, the prevalence of diabetes will double for every future generation.
In addition to the health risks, the financial costs of diabetes are massive. The U.S. spent $174 billion on diabetes in 2007. One out of every 10 dollars spent on health care in the U.S. goes toward diabetes and its complications. Funding the SDP, which costs less than one-tenth of 1 percent of what we spend every year to treat diabetes, will help find ways to cure and ultimately prevent it. One result of the SDP is the artificial pancreas, a device that will automatically help people manage blood sugar levels and reduce complications, which could save the government almost $2 billion over 25 years. Investing in the SDP doesn't just save lives -- it also saves our country a lot of money down the road.
In my business, taking your foot off the gas guarantees failure. It's no different in the search for a diabetes cure. Before the end of the year, Congress has a clear choice to make -- build on SDP's amazing progress, or stop short and delay big breakthroughs for years or even decades. Congress needs to step up and fully fund the SDP this year. This is a race we can, and must, win.
Aspiring NASCAR driver and Bakersfield native Ryan Reed was the 2010 Rookie of the Year in the Super Late Model division at Toyota Speedway in Irwindale. He will continue his career in 2013 by entering the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.