Every year, in the depths of winter, the JDRF puts on a massive event at the Mall of America. This year, we've got a little bit of spring for it, so I'm hoping that's a good omen. What is this event? The Walk for the Cure -- thousands upon thousands of people descend on the Mall of America to raise funds and awareness for Juvenile Diabetes. The goal? A cure.
Diabetes is an old disease -- it's been with us for thousands of years. Less than a century ago, doctors and scientists figured out that it could be treated with animal insulin. Synthetic insulins followed. Now, diabetics can choose from an array of high-tech genetically engineered insulins -- some grown by E.coli, some grown by yeast. A century ago, a diabetic had one to two years to live after diagnosis. Now, diabetics can live very long and quite normal lives.
For almost seven years, we've lived with diabetes in the house. Last year, we learned how very misnamed Juvenile Diabetes really is: I contracted type 1 diabetes. It's likely been brewing for several years. The symptoms grew slowly for me -- irritability, fatigue, malaise. Periodically, I'd have bouts of something akin to stomach flu. It wasn't flu, though, it was my body trying to deal with excessively high blood sugar. By the time I was diagnosed, I'd been averaging a blood-sugar level of around 350 mg/dl for at least 3 months. Normal blood sugar is 80-110 mg/dl. Untreated, I'd have been facing kidney failure, blindness, amputation of extremities and eventually death. I was lucky -- I caught it early. Many adults who contract autoimmune diabetes only find out when they are hospitalized for kidney failure or other devastating complications.
The JDRF has made grand, grand strides toward a cure. Modern insulin pumps have gone from the size of a backpack to the size of a pack of cigarettes in less than 50 years. I can eat any food I want -- I just have to tell my pump how much insulin to give me. Thirty years ago, I'd have been on a strict diet to control my insulin. Fifty years ago, I'd have been unable to check my bloodsugar at home. Now, I have a device that can tell me my bloodsugar in under five seconds.
To be honest, that's good enough for me. I'm satisfied with what has been accomplished -- until I look at Thorwald, my eldest boy. He's going to be eight in july. He contracted Juvenile Diabetes (now, more properly known as type 1 diabetes) when he was less than a year old. He had an insulin pump before he could walk. The technology has been wonderful -- don't think I'm not grateful for all that it can do.
For my son, though, I long for a cure. Thorwald shouldn't have to prick his fingers 8-10 times a day to check his blood-glucose. Every other day, we change out his pump's infusion set. This means a 37mm needle inserted into the skin, to guide a plastic canula into place, and then it's withdrawn again. Thorwald has seen the sharp end of more needles in his nearly 8 years than most people will ever see.
Thorwald is one of the lucky ones -- he lives in the United States, and we have good health coverage. He can afford all of the treatments necessary to keep him alive and healthy. Without that health coverage, we could not afford the good, genetically-engineered insulin. In poorer countries, insulin isn't even available. There, diabetics still die very young.
We need a cure, and the clock is ticking. More and more people are contracting type 1 diabetes -- children, adults and teens: no one is safe. Mass production of test strips, meters and pumps has lowered the cost of treatments, but this hasn't altered the sheer number of people who need treatment. This is an auto-immune disorder which cannot be caused or corrected by lifestyle or "healthy choices." In every type 1 diabetic, the ability to produce insulin is destroyed by an immune system gone awry.
Many researchers are close to a cure. There are many different avenues for cures. Some researchers believe they can "reboot" the immune system and that insulin production will be restored. Others work on electronic devices that can mimic the function of a normal pancreas. Still others are working on ways to implant tissue to function as a pancreas. The University of Minnesota's Spring Point project is working on developing pancreatic tissue in hogs, which can then be implanted in humans.
It's so close that we can almost taste it. But like everything else, it needs money.
Every dollar helps. Yes, even a dollar. We can cure diabetes once and for all. Personally, I think the researchers who are working on rebooting the pancreas (via various methods) are on to something. I think that within my son's lifetime, and hopefully within my lifetime, we'll see that biological cure. Diabetes will go the way of most ulcers and of most cataracts: eliminated by a treatment that restores original function to the body.
I set my own fundraising goal at $250 -- in this economy, I think that's probably ambitious. I'm going to stick $100 of my own money in on the day of the walk.
You can donate directly to me at http://tinyurl.com/4a47m54
If you'd rather donate to the kids, you can donate to Thorwald at: http://tinyurl.com./4nc3exx
You can donate to Gunnar at: http://tinyurl.com/4k68wzw
You may have already gotten a similar letter from Angela -- I had originally intended to just send this letter to those whom Angela had not emailed. She asked that I send it to everyone, though. Feel free to forward this letter far and wide -- to anyone who might be interested.