Georgia teen one of first pediatric patients to receive groundbreaking diabetes treatment

Ella Velez is pretty matter of fact about being a trailblazer.

"My friends like to say, oh, you're so famous now," said Velez.

The 15-year-old, from Columbus, is one of the first pediatric patients in the world to get an infusion of a groundbreaking drug called TZEILD.

The recently FDA approved drug will help people like the fun-loving gymnast from developing diabetes for at least 2 to 7 years.

"TZEILD is interfering with the process of identifying two white blood cells that they should kill the cells and make insulin," explained Dr. Steven Lichter , Endocrinologist at Piedmont Columbus.

Ella's parents say their faith helped them get through the decision to go forward with the medicine. This journey started with Ella's little brother Alex. Doctors diagnosed him with diabetes almost 5 years ago. He participated in an early TZEILD clinical trial.

"[TZEILD] was initially being tested to see if it would make type 1 diabetes easier to treat ,and her brother had just gotten type 1 diabetes," recalled Dr. Leichter.

Along the way, doctors determined Ella was a candidate to use the medicine. She had tested positive for autoantibodies linked to a risk for diabetes.

"We had no idea Ella had the auto antibodies for type 1 diabetes," said Velez's mother Lorna.

According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 1 million Georgians live with diabetes. The teen insists she had no issues with the drug and its infusion process.

"I'd say the worst part was just going in the morning all the time, but all my nurses took care of me," said Velez.

Starting July 1, Piedmont Columbus has started lab testing to screen for others who may be eligible for treatment. 

People in the Atlanta metro area can contact their primary care physician if they are interested or contact Piedmont Endocrinology in Columbus directly at 706-322-1700.

Researchers hope after 7 years, there will be further advances to continue to stop Velez and others from developing diabetes.

"It opens up doors to other families that , hey, there's help," said Ella's father, Luis.