Patient Profile - Mari's Story

At the age of 34, I was in the prime of health. I ran 6 miles a day, hiked in the Cascades whenever I could find the time, and worked long hours at a community health center. One spring day, this all changed when, after a few days of profound fatigue, frequent getting up at night to urinate, and unquenchable thirst, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. This is an autoimmune disease that systematically destroys the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas. In the simplest terms, insulin is responsible for providing energy to our cells; without insulin, our cells starve to death.

Being diagnosed with diabetes meant that my life would be permanently altered. I knew that I would no longer be able to take a simple walk to the store without first making sure that my blood sugar was stable. I knew that a pregnancy would now be considered “high risk” and would require more medical intervention. I knew that unless I made a concentrated, life-long effort to control this disease, that I would be faced with the possibilities of blindness, kidney failure, amputation and a very reduced life span. Now, before I could even begin the simple tasks we all take for granted, I would need to have a variety of safeguards in place to prevent low blood sugar, which can result in coma or even death. The knowledge of my sudden, new reality caused me to fall into a heap on the couch and cry.

The positive side of my story is that I am among the 1.4 million Americans living today with Type 1 diabetes. This disease was once fatal, but can now be controlled through an injectable miracle drug - insulin. In the 1920's, the research team of Drs. Banting and Best discovered that dogs with diabetes survived and even gained weight when injected with insulin from pig or cow pancreas. Pig and bovine insulin were then purified and manufactured for use in patients with diabetes. Numerous children with Type 1 diabetes have been brought back from the brink of death because of the discovery of insulin. Dr. Banting and his research team won the Nobel Prize in 1923 for this life-saving research. Recent advances in molecular biology now allow human insulin to be produced for diabetics. Continued research and the use of animal models has led to the development of an insulin pump, which allows me to closely regulate my blood sugar. Thanks to this incredible invention, I was able to have two beautiful, healthy sons and can look forward to watching them grow to adulthood.

Photo by Mark Dorfman

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