Juliana Graceffo, a senior at Sammamish’s Eastlake High School, took the day off school Friday, stood on a stage in front of the nation, and raised from her hip the small medical device that keeps her alive.
“Here,” Graceffo said to Washington’s governor, senators and hundreds of assembled dignitaries, “is the insulin pump that delivers the essential insulin hormone, which I need to survive.”
The pump, she explained, communicates wirelessly with a glucose monitor to continuously administer insulin. It’s a massive improvement over when Graceffo was first diagnosed with diabetes 14 years ago and needed a dozen finger pricks and multiple injections a day to keep her blood sugar regulated.
But at the same time, the cost of insulin, a basic hormone that’s been manufactured for nearly 100 years, has skyrocketed from about $40 a vial to about $300.
Then she introduced someone who she hopes will be able to do something about it.
“A president who understands the hopes and dreams of families like mine across this country,” Graceffo said. “Please welcome President Biden.”
Biden was introduced Friday by Graceffo and her mother, Elisa, who since Juliana’s diabetes diagnosis have become activists, raising nearly $500,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
As part of a speech on efforts to lower prescription drug prices, Biden pushed for a policy that would limit out-of-pocket insulin to $35 a month.
The office of U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, who has Type 1 diabetes herself, had contacted the research foundation looking for a diabetes advocate. The Graceffos earlier this week got a call from her office asking if they’d be interested in an event on Friday.
Since then, Elisa, said, it’s been close to a whirlwind — back and forth with White House staff, clothes shopping, telling family and friends, and, not until Friday morning, writing their speeches.
Elisa, on stage, told the president and the nation the story of Christmas Eve 2008, when Juliana was 4. It seemed like she had the flu, but then when she was having trouble breathing, an ambulance came and rushed her to Seattle Children’s hospital. Her blood sugar, it turned out, was about seven times a normal level.
She called living with Type 1 diabetes a family affair, “a 24/7 process of checking blood sugars, counting the carbohydrates of everything your child eats, so you can calculate the right amount of insulin.”
A family philosophy, though, is when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
“But it’s hard to make lemonade when the cost of some of the ingredients can be so high,” Elisa said.
Backstage, before the event, the two had a couple of minutes with the president.
“He thanked us for being here and told us how important it is to share our story and we give people courage,” Elisa said. “He was very gracious.”
“Yeah, he’s just, he’s a genuine guy,” Juliana said.
Biden, as he took the stage and began his speech, announced to the world that Juliana will be going to Notre Dame next year.
“If she sees me on campus, I don’t want her to say ‘Joe who?'” Biden said. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Juliana said.
“God love you,” Biden said.
The whole experience, Juliana said, was “surreal.”
“I don’t think it’s hit me that it actually happened yet,” she said. “My phone is currently blowing up in my pocket.”
So what’s school going to be like on Monday?
“I don’t know,” she said. “My friends have told me that people are already talking about it.”
Then she added, hopefully, “I mean, normal?”