WESTFIELD, NJ – Westfield mom Lynel Katz has helped raise more than $400,000 for diabetes research in the last three years. Katz co-chairs the Foundation for Diabetes Research’s annual Harvest for Hope in support of her children, two of three of whom have Type 1 diabetes.
A few years ago, Katz was asked to co-chair the event, which she had already been donating to. She was attracted to FDR, an organization created by people in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, because it was more local and smaller and “I felt like I could make a bigger impact,” she said.
Now in its 18th year, this year’s event it took place Oct. 26 at The Grove in Cedar Grove. It included a silent auction, dinner and a raffle, but the main attraction was the fashion show starring children with Type 1 diabetes.
They are able to “become the stars of the night,” said Katz, who’s chaired the past three events. “We basically celebrate them and all that they do in a day and a year.”
The fashion show is the organization’s most successful fundraiser, bringing in about 500 people and $160,000 each year. This is generated from private donations mainly from families, but Katz hopes to utilize the untapped source of corporate funds in the next few years to garner more financial support.
Children with diabetes find participating in the fashion show empowering, including Katz's daughter Ella.
“Ella says the fashion show is the best part of having diabetes,” Katz said.
When Ella started showing symptoms, such as dehydration and heavy breathing as a 1-year-old, Katz brought her to a slew of doctors, all of whom diagnosed her with different ailments and viruses. Ultimately, a trip to the emergency room resulted in Ella’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
“We basically had to learn how to become nurses and doctors,” Katz said of the experience. “We had to learn carb counting. We had to buy a scale. We did everything you could do to take care of a baby with diabetes.”
Later, Katz’s son, Asher, was also diagnosed with diabetes. So, Katz stopped working. “This is a full time job,” she said. It’s especially demanding for her children.
Each child participating in the fashion show had a photo in the program with a quote. Ella’s reads, “In 8 years I have pricked my finger 26,000 times. I have changed my pump at least 1,000 times.”
“Anyone living with this disease is a superhero,” Katz says. “Twenty-four hours, seven days a week of constant moderating and adjusting, carb counting, exercising, taking insulin … not to look good, but to stay alive.”
Ella’s diagnosis was not the beginning of Katz’s confrontation with diabetes. Her sister, Hilari Pugliese, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12, when Katz was 9. Katz helped her sister become part of early treatment of diabetes.
Pugliese participated in numerous experimental studies in which Katz’s blood sugar and vitals were essential to the results. She participated in family studies and was involved with research for a long time, with Pugliese being one of the first 800 recipients of the insulin pump.
Katz said her early and continued involvement makes her work in the FDR that much more meaningful to her. She said she aims to stay informed on the medical and scientific aspects of diabetes and its research. She said she is also devoted to seeing where the money raised goes and how it will help in the search for a cure.
“This small organization is truly interested in finding researchers and funding research that is specifically aimed at ... one day finding a cure,” she said. “Insulin is their lifeline and that’s great ... but we want these kids to just live a life. When you live with it daily, you’re like, ‘Enough already.’”
Both Katz’s family and the foundation agree her role is invaluable in their fight against diabetes.
“Her quest for a cure embodies the way she lives her life,” Pugliese said. “With selfless giving, positivity, creativity, compassion and authenticity.”
Katz’s co-chair, Kyle Wiseholtz, agrees.
“She is such a hardworking, motivated person [and] has the biggest heart of anyone I know,” he said. “She has such a good mind for helping the organization ... and is extremely dedicated to the cause.”