Corleys try to spread knowledge of Type 1 diabetes
ELKINS — A local family struggling to pay for their daughter’s medication hopes to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes.
Gabriella “Gabi” Corley was diagnosed with diabetes on April 15, 2014, at the age of 7. Now a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Jennings Randolph Elementary School in Elkins, Gabi does quite well with her diabetes and an insulin pump.
Her mother, Andrea Corley, said Type I diabetes is often misunderstood by the general public. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children, and patients produces little to no insulin. They must inject insulin several times each day or use an insulin pump in order to avoid going into a potentially deadly coma.
“It’s a lifelong battle for her, and awareness is important,” Corley said.
The Corleys gained national media attention earlier this year after being featured on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt as well as in a national business article by NBC News. The coverage focused on how the skyrocketing cost of insulin has prompted many people — including the Corleys — to purchase medication on the black market, trading with others online.
The Corleys have health insurance through Public Employee Insurance Agency, which covers less than 25 percent of the cost of Apidra — the only insulin Gabi can use. PEIA does cover a higher percentage of the cost of two other insulins, but Gabi is allergic to both of them. If PEIA would cover Apidra under a coverage different category, there would only be a $25 out-of-pocket expense, Corley said.
The out-of-pocket cost for one vial of Apidra is usually $270 to $370, she added, and one vial might last up to a month. That price is often a huge burden for her family.
“It shouldn’t be like that,” Corley said, explaining she has repeatedly contacted her insurance company, pharmacies and the drug manufacturer to try to find a way to get Gabi’s medicine covered at a more affordable rate. She also has worked with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and said he and his office have promised to try to address the issue.
“The desperation that I felt when I opened the fridge and there was only one vial (of Gabi’s medicine) — I didn’t want to have anyone else feel that,” she said.
She added the main issue is insurance companies not listening to what an individual’s doctor prescribes.
“If a physician feels that’s the medication that’s needed, then that’s the medication that should be approved,” Corley said — particularly in a case when the patient is allergic to one form of medicine.
Corley said she and her husband try to shield Gabi from the strain and worry they feel. They want her to feel normal and not know how much her medical care costs.
“It’s an extreme hardship,” Corley said. “She knows that she has to have the medicine to live. But you don’t want her to know that all your extra money goes to her medicine.”
After being prompted by a friend, Corley established an online page through Go Fund Me to seek donations. The address is www.gofundme.com/GabiNeedsHelp. She said she was skeptical at first, but she needed help to try to purchase medicine for Gabi as well as her insulin pump.
“I was surprised — a lot of high donations came from friends of friends,” she said, explaining she was so grateful for each gift, no matter how large or small, and she sent a personal thank-you message to everyone.
After the national news coverage, Corley said more people donated — some from Canada, some from overseas.
Since it was established in May 2016, donors have raised $9,770. The money allowed them to purchase the pump and more than a year’s worth of supplies.
“It has been amazing,” she said.
Just recently, the Tygart Valley Ladies Shrine Club of Elkins presented the Corleys with a $500 check to help with Gabi’s medicine expenses.
Corley said they are truly thankful for every individual and group that has helped Gabi.
In addition to the community support, both locally and online, Corley said she also is grateful for the care Gabi has received as a patient of Drs. Brian Ely and Evan Jones at West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown.
She said Dr. Ely has helped in any way he can, even providing boxes of sample medication for Gabi whenever possible.
“Bless his heart, he does everything he can for us,” Corley said.
Another positive experience for Gabi has been attending a special summer camp each year called Camp Kno-Koma, which takes place in Greenbrier County. The camp is designed for diabetic children ages 7 through 15, and more than 100 kids attended in July.
“It’s like the best week of her year,” Corley said. “Gabi says, ‘It’s the only week when everyone is like me.'”
Corley said the local Independent Order of Odd Fellows group covered the attendance cost for Gabi, and this was her fourth year.
“They are amazing at making sure the kids get to go and have a good time,” she said.
“She loves it,” Corley added. “She’s usually trying to start packing by Christmas.”
During the school year, Corley said staff members at Jennings Randolph Elementary are supportive and accommodating, and Gabi has a refrigerator for her medication that stays in her classroom.
She said most of the time, Gabi doesn’t have any medical issues during school, but every now and then her condition rears its ugly head.
“Some days diabetes is just a jerk — but there’s not much we can do about it,” Corley said.
Gabi is very active in school, is a cheerleader with the Elkins Youth Football and Cheer League and takes tumbling classes each winter. Her older brother, Russell, is a seventh-grader at Elkins Middle School.
Corley said she hopes something will change soon, and either the insurance company will change its policy to cover more of the medicine’s cost, or she will be able to qualify for an assistance program through the drug manufacturer.
“God provides, and we’re firm believers that everything will be OK one way or another,” she said.