Paying it forward through research: From trial participant to T1D advocate
When Ash Hunkin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at the age of nine, little did she know that she was about to embark on a journey that would see her advocating for others with the disease for the next 26 years of her life.
Raised in a family that viewed personal challenges as empowering, Ash soon got involved with JDRF and became a Walk participant. As her mother solicited donations from her networks for research into a cure, the annual event quickly became one of Ash’s favourite days of the year. It was during that time that she was also encouraged to take part in studies on T1D.
“We discussed it at the dinner table,” recalls Ash.
“Our family believed that part of living with diabetes meant pitching in to help the next generation of people with T1D. Though I could have said no, it was a ‘pay it forward’ kind of thing. I saw it as a chance to take part in something new and exciting ahead of the curve.”
From the time she was a tween, Ash was enrolled in many trials at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto. Following her 10th birthday, she participated in a study to determine whether the outcomes for insulin administration using short needles were comparable to those using longer needles.
“Being given the opportunity to try and change T1D, and getting to try treatments before anyone else was very rewarding,” she says.
Ash was also involved in an intense, two-year experiment on inhaled insulin that required a full-day hospital stay every couple of weeks.
“That study seemed never-ending and I skipped school often,” she relates. “Yet the best part was I got to use an insulin puffer, which meant no injections.”
Ash credits her experiences as a T1D trial participant with having had a positive influence on different aspects of her life.
“I developed resiliency,” she remarks candidly. “It also helped steer me in the direction of community engagement, guiding my career. And most importantly, it allowed me to feel like I was contributing because I was putting my heart and soul into something that – whether it worked or not – would still move the research along.”
Today, 35-year-old Ash continues to advocate for people living with T1D in her role as community engagement specialist at JDRF’s British Columbia Office. Since joining the organization in 2016, she has been instrumental in cultivating strong working relationships and building capacity to draw greater support for JDRF’s mission.
Asked if she would recommend participating in trials to children living with T1D, Ash is quick to reply. “Absolutely,” she says. “It helps frame diabetes as a special thing over which we have power.”
For more information on JDRF’s clinical trials, click here.