Monday, November 9, 2009

Living with Type 1 Diabetes

As part of our month long series on diabetes, today we're taking a look at Type 1 diabetes.

One of my aunts was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of twelve. Over the course of her life she had two kidney transplants and a series of amputations that eventually took both of her feet. She was one of the first to use an insulin pump, delivered two healthy (though premature) babies, had special gears put in her car so she could drive footless, and was maybe one of the every hundred people who had a Furby who actually figured out how to make the thing talk.

I mention that last part, because although I always knew my aunt had diabetes, aside from the funky slippers she wore and the occasional wire you saw running to her pocket, you might never have known that she was sick. At least from a distance. Because diabetes is a manageable, and oft-overlooked disease. But it’s still a disease.
Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which a person’s body cannot produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone - produced in the pancreas – that converts sugars and other food into energy for the body. Without it, we lose our ability to process food properly. There are a number of treatments, but there is no cure for a pancreas that won’t produce insulin; except for a new pancreas.
Sometime around New Year’s 2002, a doctor called my aunt and uncle and told them they were getting a late Christmas present for my aunt. After more than 30 years of living with diabetes, she was at the top of the donor list and would be getting a new pancreas. Her cure for diabetes had arrived.

Organ replacement surgery is a risky business. My aunt lived through the surgery, but died from post-operative complications without ever leaving the hospital. To have her survive so much and then to not get to go home and enjoy a life free from daily injections and worry was overwhelming.

But there is good news. Before insulin replacement therapy, survival rates for diabetics were weeks. My aunt lived with diabetes for more than three decades. Research has brought us so far in understanding the dynamics of diabetes:
  • Replacements for islet cells in the pancreas are being tested as an alternative to total pancreas transplants.
  • Today’s insulin pumps can detect changes in blood glucose levels and help prevent diabetic attacks.
  • Advances in eye research have helped to decrease the incidence of diabetes-induced blindness.
There is still so much to learn about diabetes. I have confidence that one day research will help save the lives of people like my aunt. But,

“Without research, there is no hope.”
~The Honorable Paul G. Rogers

This is Part 2 in our National Diabetes Awareness Month series.
Part 1 - November is Diabetes Awareness Month


  1. Pancreas is one regarding which there is a varied understanding in today's day. There are many discoveries around the pancreas.. I made these flashcards to ensure that everyone who wants to know anything about the pancreas.

  2. I have lived with type 1 diabetes for 4 decades now. My diabetes is very brittle and unfortunately, I couldnt see the type on the menu bar on the pump, so had to forego this latest technology. I would love to feel better in myself again. I also suffer with other autoimmune complications which, interfere with my blood sugars. I am passionate to support research into endocrinology and diabetes.