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JDRF founder Lee Ducat (right) hosts Virtua Health CEO Dennis Pullin in her Audubon, Pa., home, where they recorded a recent podcast.

EVESHAM >> In the late 1960s, Lee Ducat was “just another mother” of a child with type 1 diabetes. But 50 years ago May 21, she became the founder of one of the most successful not-for-profit organizations dedicated to eliminating the chronic disease.

Although she had no relevant experience, Ducat “knew how to throw a cocktail party,” she recalled with a chuckle. So that’s what she did.

With the help of her son’s doctor, Ducat brought together families and friends of other type 1 diabetes patients in her Lower Merion, Pa., home. She offered them home-made membership forms, which led to the creation of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.**

Since that humble start, JDRF has raised more than $2 billion to fund research – leading to better treatments and longer life expectancies, among other advances. Today, the group has more than 100 chapters in the United States and abroad. And Ducat, who now lives in Audubon, Pa., is enjoying a well-earned retirement.

In celebration of JDRF’s milestone anniversary, Ducat recently spoke with Virtua Health CEO Dennis W. Pullin on his podcast, “Here for Good.”

They discussed everything from what it was like to learn her otherwise healthy 9-year-old had a serious, lifelong illness, to her successful efforts to increase government funding to develop new treatments and potential cures.

“Lee’s story would make a terrific movie,” said Pullin at the Marlton, N.J.-based health system. “She was ‘just another mom,’ as she puts it. But her profound love for her son and her determination to help him – and to help others facing the same challenges – led her to do amazing work that benefits millions of families worldwide.”

Many Virtua Health employees support JDRF, and at least two have special connections: Ducat’s grandson Alex Lees works in Virtua’s marketing and communications department, where he produced Pullin’s podcast with Ducat. And Virtua’s chief marketing officer, Chrisie Scott, is board president of JDRF’s New Jersey Metro and Rockland County (N.Y.) Chapter.

“Lee Ducat is a huge inspiration to parents like me,” said Scott, whose son has type 1 diabetes. “She sets a wonderful example for what each of us can do – no matter our background or skills – when we work together to make a difference in the world.”

Ducat spoke with Pullin about the early days after her son Larry’s diagnosis – when there was little awareness of childhood diabetes, and treatments were far less advanced than they are today.

“For about the first six months I was completely destroyed,” recalled Ducat, noting that Larry required as many as three injections a day, and faced the prospect of blindness, kidney failure, amputation, or even death if his disease were not well-controlled.

“The bottom line is having my son become ill overnight drove me to find some way to make life better for him and for other young people with diabetes,” Ducat told Pullin.

Although science has not yet yielded a cure, “treatment has improved, life has improved, longevity is much longer for a diabetic child,” she noted.

Ducat has been a catalyst for many of those advances. Over the past five decades, she’s worked tirelessly to raise money, increase awareness, recruit other volunteers, and build JDRF into a global organization.

Yet she never loses sight of the daily struggles many families like hers still face.

“Any parent of a diabetic child goes through so much in terms of living every day and taking care of that child,” Ducat said. “They have so much to deal with, just helping their child to live.”

**While originally named the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the organization now prefers exclusive use of the initialism JDRF. The term “juvenile diabetes” is widely considered a misnomer, as type 1 diabetes can develop at any age and is a lifelong condition, even though initial diagnosis usually occurs during childhood.

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