SEMINOLE – Nine-year-old Lolly Bernstein wasn’t feeling poorly. She wasn’t rushed to the emergency room. Instead, during a routine physical checkup, sugar was found in Lolly’s urine. Blood work proved the point. Lolly had Type 1 juvenile diabetes.
Since that day, three years ago, the family has coped with Lolly’s diabetes. Now, the Seminole Middle School student wears an insulin pump and checks her sugar levels several times a day.
“It was out of the blue,” said Evvy Bernstein, Lolly’s mom. “She had no symptoms whatsoever and no family history of diabetes.” Lolly does well with her pump, Bernstein said, but insulin is not a cure.
So although finding a cure for Lolly is paramount to Bernstein, her efforts extend far beyond her own family. Indeed, Bernstein was recently named the Florida state captain for the Iacocca Foundation’s JoinLeeNow campaign that has a goal of raising $11 million to fund the first human clinical trials to reverse and cure Type 1 diabetes by eliminating the autoimmune response.
Lee Iacocca began the umbrella fundraising effort in memory of his wife who died in 1984 of diabetic complications. Since that time, the foundation has given more than $20 million to diabetes research. Iacocca made a promise to his wife that he would work to find a cure during his lifetime. Bernstein has made the same promise to her daughter.
The current research, being done by Dr. Denise Faustman at Massachusetts General Hospital, has already been successful in reversing diabetes and regenerating insulin-producing cells in mice, Bernstein said. Faustman believes that the research has implications for other autoimmune diseases like Lupus and Crohn’s. The researcher is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and also serves as director of immunobiology at the hospital.
Bernstein has met Faustman three times. “We need to work to find a cure. This could be it,” Bernstein said. “How could I look back and say I didn’t even try?”
Bernstein has a goal to raise $100,000. In March, her first project will be the selling of silver bracelets with a red stripe inside it. The significance of the colors? The red represents the finger pricks of blood diabetics must deal with each day, and the silver illustrates a cure. “We want everyone to buy and wear a bracelet to let everyone know about our mission,” said Bernstein.
“The bracelets will sell for $5,” she said, “and 100 percent of the proceeds from the bracelet sales goes directly to research.”
Another possible project might mirror one done by the Iacocca Foundation and Chrysler. The car company donates a portion of its profits to the JoinLeeNow campaign each time a vehicle is sold. Bernstein said perhaps businesses would be willing to donate $1 to the local effort each time one of their products is sold. One month might be a reasonable donation period, she said.
Bernstein worked in numerous fundraising campaigns before moving to Seminole from Connecticut six months ago with husband, Jay, and another daughter, Katie, 15, who attends Osceola High School.
“I want to do everything I can,” said Bernstein. “I want Lolly to look back 10 years from now and say, ‘I used to have diabetes.’”
Bernstein welcomes anyone in the community who would like to brainstorm fundraising activities or work as a volunteer with her campaign. “I would love to get more people involved,” she said.