November is Diabetes Awareness Month.
I’ve been “Diabetes Aware” since Thea, my youngest daughter, was six. And thanks to the dedicated efforts of Sir Frederick Banting and his colleague, Dr. Charles Best, Thea is alive at age 21.
Ninety years ago that wasn’t the case. Those with Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that most often appears in children and was tagged juvenile diabetes, lived very brief lives; their pancreas unable to do the job of providing the substance required to process the carbohydrates the patient ate into a form of fuel (glucose) that the cells of the body could use to sustain life.
Without insulin, the fuel for the body merely gathered in its raw state in the blood—transported round and round the body like waste; the kidneys exhausting themselves to rid the body of this unusable product.
This raw material gathered in the extremities and in the eyes, eventually damaging the major organs, leaving the brain starved for fuel.
Before Thea was correctly diagnosed, her body went after her fat stores and muscles to find fuel for her body’s functions and she shed one-quarter of her body weight in just 10 days.
She was weak, limp, unable to walk, a paper cut remained unhealed on her palm for weeks, and her body was so dehydrated she couldn’t close her eyes while I begged her doctor to reconsider his initial diagnosis of urinary tract infection.
Ninety years ago, Banting and Best worked tirelessly to solve the dilemma of a misfiring pancreas, extracting insulin from a healthy pancreas and testing it on dogs that had their pancreas removed and developed diabetes, and then testing their discovery on themselves to be sure of its safety for human use.
A 14-year-old boy, Leonard Thompson, was the first person with diabetes to receive insulin and he rapidly returned to health.
Banting was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1923 for their discovery, sharing the award with Prof. John Macleod of the University of Toronto, who gave Banting permission and access to a lab to further investigate Banting’s ideas about the pancreas.
Banting shared his financial award with Dr. Best, who had not been named in the award, and the efforts of these two men still are considered one of the biggest discoveries in medicine.
We often confuse Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Though they both involve the pancreas and its production of insulin, they are vastly different diseases and their treatments likewise vastly different.
We have been warned that Type 2 diabetes will reach epidemic levels in the near future due to our poor diets high in sugar and fat, and our sedentary lifestyles; our children’s activities centered around computers and televisions and very little physical activity.
Great strides are being made in the discoveries of permanent treatments for those with Type 1 diabetes and Canada is leading the way. I believe that in Thea’s lifetime, she will be presented with treatment options that will sustain her and lengthen her life expectancy.
For now, she tries to balance her activity with her food intake and with insulin to allow her to live as normal a life as possible. Sometimes that balance goes awry and she suffers seizures when her blood glucose levels drop too low or drop too quickly.
And in other extremes, when her blood glucose levels run high, she has difficulty concentrating, difficulty retrieving her thought processes in proper sequence, her vision is compromised, and she feels extremely fatigued and unwell, with permanent damage being done to her organs.
As a parent, my “Diabetes Awareness” has me applauding those scientists dedicating their research in the area of Type 1 diabetes. My awareness has me crossing my fingers and hoping Thea starts every day with her blood glucose at the proper levels.
My “Diabetes Awareness” has me realizing that many children who suffer from diabetes, and live in poverty, cannot take the proper care that is required due to the significant cost of treatment and testing supplies.
My “Diabetes Awareness” has me demanding our health care system do better.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month.