Editor’s Note: Federal Way resident Gary Robertson writes about his experience living with type 1 diabetes. People should always follow the care prescribed by their regular physician when treating the illness.
Diabetes is a major health issue in our country today (along with heart disease, cancer and Alzheimers disease) with our problem of eating foods that are not healthy. As a result, it has led to obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes, once known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects the way the body metabolizes sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic. With type 2 diabetes, the body either resists the effects of insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level. Often doctors prescribe pills or other medications to help treat type 2 diabetes, and combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise, type 2 diabetes can be successfully controlled.
Diabetes can be hereditary but doesn’t have to be as it wasn’t in my family before I got it.
I am a type 1 diabetic and have been since 1980 when I was 35 years old. Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, according to the Mayo Clinic. What happens in some cases, and in mine, over time, the immune system, which is supposed to protect you against diseases, thinks the beta cells that produce insulin are “foreign bodies” and started to attack them. When they have all been destroyed, you have type 1 diabetes, and that is why it is called an “autoimmune disease.”When that happens, you experience symptoms such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, high blood glucose readings, possible eye problems, etc. When I was first diagnosed, I had to stay in the hospital where doctors regulated my blood sugar and educated me about my new life with diabetes. Diabetes will not kill you if is properly controlled, but it can cause complications like loss of limb(s), eyesight, kidney failure and heart problems.
For the first 12 years as a diabetic, I took two injections of insulin a day. When I heard about the results of a nine-year study maintaining tight control of blood sugars to avoid complications, which ended one year early due to conclusive results, I decided to switch to an insulin pump. Except for a recent five-month period when a defective pump stopped working, and the company that made it refused to replace it, I have been on one ever since. In 2012, I switched to a different brand of insulin pump that came with a continuous glucose monitoring system, but it didn’t work for me, and I had to switch back to my old pump. I am now on a new CGMS called Dexcom, which does work, and it is critical for me because I have a condition known as “hypoglycemia unawareness.” This is where your blood sugar goes too low and can cause you to pass out with no warning, and if you live alone like I do, there is no one to call 911. With my continuous glucose monitoring device, it will warn me if my blood sugar drops too low so I can eat something before I lose consciousness. It will also warn when your blood sugar goes too high so you can program your insulin pump to deliver more insulin to bring it down. That way you can achieve more normal A1C results, which is a lab test diabetics take every two to three months to determine their average blood glucose reading.
Unfortunately, like Alzheimers, there is currently no cure for diabetes, but doctors have made significant advances in treating it so diabetics can live long productive lives without long-term complications. I am a diabetes success story because I have been able to do that for 37 years.