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North Texas 6-Year-Old Helping Perfect Bionic Pancreas

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM)- Six-year-old Elise Cunha is an adorable, happy little girl but, keeping her healthy is an around the clock job.
"At around 11:00 or midnight, and we check her again at 3:00 AM. And those are just two checks. Assuming everything is good—and if things are not good, there are many more checks throughout the night," says her Dad, Fred Cunha.
Just days after her first birthday, Elise was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic.
"What I knew about diabetes scared me," says her Mom, Joanne, "and she was a baby! I was thinking 'how am I going to do this?'"
"One of us would hold her down and the other one—while she screamed—the other one would give her the shot," says Fred. "Luckily, she doesn't remember that."
But, the six-year-old now has her own opinions about her illness. "It's sometimes hard, and not fair," she confides in a whisper. "Sometimes you can't eat what other people are eating. And I just don't like diabetes."
And neither does her family. The diagnosis turned the Cunha's into instant activists mobilizing teams around the world for fundraising walks to help find a cure. But, that fight will soon be waged much closer to home: Elise is preparing to take part in a clinical trial for what's being called the next best thing to a cure: the bionic pancreas.
"This is a game changer," says Fred, with barely contained enthusiasm. He learned more about the ground breaking research at a recent conference for families of Type 1 diabetics. The revolutionary device not only monitors blood sugar levels, but also automatically dispenses the correct amount of insulin when sugar levels are too high, or glucagon when levels are too low.
"There's all these things we have to think about—and the bionic pancreas basically just does all the thinking for you," says Fred. After hearing patients who had participated in the trials describe feeling "normal" for the first time in their lives, "I was blown away—for the first time, I could actually taste something was just around the corner." He also wasted no time contacting researchers to see if Elise could take part in a trial. The brave six-year-old consented and is looking forward to two weeks at a camp where she'll be just like all of the other kids.
And while Mom Joanne admits to more than a little separation anxiety, she's letting Elise go now, in the hope that her daughter's burden when will be lighter, when she has to let her go, for good.
"It is all on them to take care of themselves, and it is exhausting!" says Joanne. "And if we can take some of that away from her, so that it's not such a burden, that would mean everything to me."

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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