Summiting the Hill 1

Leawood Teen Meets With 
Congress To Advocate For A Cure For Juvenile Diabetes

In many ways, Amelia Cooper is a normal teenager. A sophomore at Pembroke Hill High School, she runs cross country and sings in the choir. Her hobbies include snow skiing, hanging out with friends, and testifying to the Senate on behalf of medical research. You know, normal teenager stuff…

Cooper’s journey to the Senate began three years ago. When she was 12 years old, Cooper was diagnosed with type one diabetes (T1D). T1D is a chronic disease in which the immune system destroys the beta cells that the pancreas produces. A person with T1D needs insulin every day to survive. That may sound simple, but as anyone who knows a diabetic can attest, it’s not. The disease, while manageable, is unrelenting and often fraught with variability. Like most kids who are newly diagnosed, Cooper was overwhelmed at first.

As much as she hated to be different, Cooper didn’t hide her disease from friends. In fact, when she was in 8th grade, she wrote an article that was published in a magazine about what she wished people knew about diabetics. Her life as a T1D advocate had begun.

Soon after that, Cooper heard about Children’s Congress, and she knew she had to apply.

Every two years, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) sends two applicants from each state to Children’s Congress on Capitol Hill. Hundreds of children with T1D apply to be delegates, so it is an honor to be chosen to represent your state. Cooper was one of the two delegates from Kansas.

Last July, the JDRF delegates flew to Washington D.C. for a busy three days of events. Children’s Congress 2015 kicked off with a Delegate Social, which allowed kids from around the nation to get to know each other.

Next on the delegates’ agenda was the Hill Blitz, a detailed tour of Capitol Hill that helped prepare the kids for their meetings with the Senate. During the Hill Blitz, they learned how to thank members of Congress for renewing the Special Diabetes Program and how to encourage them to sponsor certain diabetes research bills. Cooper also met with Senator Blunt, Senator McCaskill and Representative Cleaver, and had detailed conversations with each of them about different aspects of T1D.

After the Hill Blitz, the delegates enjoyed the Celebrity Town Hall, which enabled them to meet many successful actors, athletes and musicians with T1D. Cooper was excited to talk to Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999, who gave her detailed advice on public speaking, and also let her try on her crown.

Last on the agenda was attending the Senate Panel. Cooper was one of two delegates in the nation selected to testify before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. As she sat at a table in front of a row of senators, Cooper was very nervous. However, she remembered that Johnson had told her that, even though she was still a child, Cooper knew more than most of the senators about the rigors of living with T1D, and she was there to advocate for a cure. Cooper took a deep breath and began her testimony. She spoke eloquently about managing T1D against the demands of living a normal teenage life, advances in diabetic technology and care, and her hope for a future without T1D. After the Senate Panel, members of Congress raved about Cooper’s poise and speaking skills.

Now that Cooper is back in Leawood, her life has returned to normal. However, her passion for advocating for a cure for diabetes is greater than ever.

“Being on Capitol Hill was so exciting, and it inspired me to learn more about health policy, and how our government functions,” says Cooper. “I’ve applied to be a Senate Page through Senator McCaskill’s office, and I’ll find out later this winter whether I get a slot.”

Adversity always defines a person’s character. While some people fold under pressure or disappointment, others, like Cooper, discover strength and direction that they never knew they had. As writer Robert Brault says, “When life takes the wind out of your sails, it is to teach you to use the oars.”