The Atlanta teen is not as concerned with politics as she is taking up the banner for the scores of youngsters, who, like her, are coping with diabetes.
“It’s a very serious issue,” said Zaldo, 14. “It does not discriminate … and it affects each and every one of us.”
Zaldo was selected to represent Georgia as part of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund 2013 Children’s Congress, which started Monday and wraps up today. She joined 150 other youth from around the country to lobby their respective members of Congress to continue supporting research aimed at more effective treatment and an ultimate cure for type 1 diabetes.
“I do a lot of babysitting, so I see the innocence in these children’s eyes,” Zaldo said. “The thing I want to convey to [Congress] is that these kids need to stay innocent.”
In making her point, the rising high school freshman recalled her own childhood — marred by the countless hypodermic needles used for insulin injections, the overnight hospital stays and other health scares brought on by volatile blood sugar levels.
Zaldo was diagnosed with the disease a day after her fourth birthday.
She and Taylor Miller, the other Atlanta-area youth selected as delegates, have been at work in Washington since Monday.
The annual three-day Children’s Congress includes congressional visits by the young reps and a Senate hearing. Research Fund International Chairwoman and actress Mary Tyler Moore, delegates and advocates are testifying on the need for continued funding for Type 1 diabetes research, under the theme “Promise to Remember Me.”
“The JDRF Georgia chapter is very proud to have Mary Grace and Taylor representing our state at Children’s Congress,” said Georgia chapter Executive Director Trey Moore. “Governmental advocacy is an important part of our game plan to better treat and ultimately cure Type 1 diabetes. … These young people represent the face of diabetes in our community.”
As for Zaldo, the self-described “bright, funky” girl looked forward to maintaining her remarkable juggling act — being a beacon for her diabetic peers and handling typical teen issues while also meeting the demands of her illness.
The latter includes a daily regimen of pricking her finger anywhere from seven to 15 times to check her blood sugar.
Despite it all, Zaldo said she still manages to keep things in perspective.
“It’s not easy, but if you open your eyes and look around there a lot worse things around,” said Zaldo. “I remind myself every day to count my blessings.”