College student, Alyssa Zepeda’s life was full of promise. Pursuing a degree in education, she was also juggling a job as a substitute teacher. And all while managing the full time job that is Type 1 diabetes. Her free time was spent with family, friends and her boyfriend. The girl known for her sweet spirit and easy smile was well suited for her chosen career and eager to graduate and teach full time.
Sunday April 26, 2015. Alyssa had plans to attend a dance recital for her boyfriend’s sister. But Alyssa never made it to the recital. On the drive there she lost control of her car and started to head into a ditch. As she struggled to stay on the road, she turned the wheel sharply and drove her car across the center line of a highway, directly into on-coming traffic. A pickup truck slammed into her car. She died in the crash.
Her family wanted answers. What caused Alyssa to lose control? After talking to the state troopers who investigated the case, the first responders, and Alyssa’s endocrinologist, the family believes that Alyssa was suffering from high blood sugar at the time of the accident. The family was stunned. While aware of the impact of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) on the ability to drive, they were not aware that driving with hyperglycemia may be just as dangerous. The Zepedas vowed to do whatever it took to spread the word in order to spare another family this type of heartbreak.
They turned to their local JDRF chapter for guidance. The chapter reached out to the diabetes social media advocacy group, ProjectBlueNovember and asked them to help the Zepedas.
Alyssa’s Promise was born.
The goal of Alyssa’s Promise: to educate first responders, as well as those in the diabetes community, about the dangers of driving while impaired by high or low blood sugar. Lexie Zepeda, Alyssa’s younger sister who also has Type 1 diabetes, contacted first responders to determine how familiar they were with diabetes and the signs/symptoms to look for when dealing with impaired drivers. Then the ProjectBlueNovember team worked to put together content for an educational website.
The website encourages both adults and teens with diabetes to plan ahead for how to manage diabetes while driving. We tend to focus on educating our teen drivers how to manage their diabetes, but adults with diabetes can become complacent about their care. The Zepedas want adults with diabetes to promise their loved ones that they will practice safe driving.
According to the American Diabetes Association’s position statement on diabetes and driving, because YDMV –your diabetes may vary– such as the symptoms you experience, and how you manage your diabetes, “it is important that identification and evaluation processes be appropriate, individualized, and based not solely on a diagnosis of diabetes but rather on concrete evidence of actual risk” (Diabetes Care Volume 37, Supplement 1, January 2014). There is no hard and fast rule as to what number will impact every person with diabetes. Therefore, it is important for all persons with diabetes to check glucose levels before driving, and have plans in place for managing high and low blood sugar levels before and while driving.
The Zepedas also aim to provide law enforcement and emergency medical service personnel with information about identifying a person with diabetes. The symptoms of high/low blood sugar may mimic those of a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and high blood sugar may make a person more aggressive. Law enforcement officers need to know the difference. EMTs face a different challenge. They need to know about diabetes from a health perspective in order to provide the best care.
Finally, both law enforcement officers and EMTs agree that a person with diabetes must carry medical ID on their person, in their wallet, and on their vehicle. The website also provides links to some companies that sell medical ID.
The Zepeda family is asking the members of the DOC to help spread the word about Alyssa’s Promise. Adults with diabetes: sign the promise. Share your promise on social media. Parents of teens with diabetes: if your teen driver doesn’t already have a contract, do it now. Share it on social media. And for those with younger children with diabetes: model good driving practices, put down the phone, don’t mess with the radio, and as your child nears the driving years start talking about safe driving with diabetes.
“If Alyssa’s death can prevent one other person with diabetes from dying in a car accident, her goal to be an educator will have been fulfilled. That’s ALSSYA’S PROMISE. #alyssaspromise