We were having a conversation in the lobby of the hospital where I work. And I knew right away that retired businessman Bob Dehlendorf is passionate about this topic.
"Do you know what type 1 diabetes is?" he began. "Do you know what it's like to have type 1 diabetes?... every day of the year? ... 24/7?"
I'm a diabetes educator. I work daily with other dietitians and nurse educators to help people manage diabetes. But I do not have type 1 diabetes. I ask him to describe his experience.
"I was diagnosed 30-plus years ago. At the time, I was smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day. I was drinking a lot. I would make bacon every morning with three to four eggs. I was completely out of control."
"My doctor came in and said, 'Look. If you want to live, you've got to knock off the smoking and drinking. And change your diet.'
"That was it," he says. "I quit right on the spot. And my wife and I changed my diet. Then I had to begin to live life over again as a type 1."
Unlike type 2 diabetes in which the body produces insulin that does not work effectively, in type 1 diabetes the pancreas stops making insulin - the hormone that helps transfer energy (glucose) from food into the cells of the body. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood and body tissues become starved for energy. To survive, people with type 1 diabetes require several injections of insulin every day of every year for the rest of their lives.
What diet changes did he make?
"It goes back to my upbringing in the Depression _ all things in moderation. And I live a physical life ... that is extremely important." Dehlendorf, now 79, still plays tennis three times a week.
"In spite of all this, I was in the hospital emergency room recently. I was down for the count for the third time in six weeks with hypoglycemia" (dangerously low blood sugar levels).
"I am very prone to hypoglycemia," Dehlendorf continues. He shows me his backpack that he carries with him at all times with "what I need to survive" _ insulin, glucose gel (fast-acting sugar source to treat low blood sugar reactions), glucagon kit to quickly bring up blood sugars "when you really get low," fruit bar, candy bar, and a well-used notebook with daily details of blood glucose testing, carbohydrate content of foods, and insulin doses.
"I also carry phone numbers ... and extra batteries for my blood glucose meter ... for backup."
Getting good control of diabetes is "like fencing in the fog," Dehlendorf says. Even though we have knowledge about how to treat diabetes and prevent the serious complications, "we need to find ways to increase the depth of our knowledge and come up with solutions to beat this. If we don't, Katie bar the door."
"It's got to be education," Dehlendorf says. "You have to get into it intellectually as well as physically."
I tell him about the diabetes education program at our hospital that is a covered benefit of Medicare and other insurance plans. And we agree to talk further about ways to educate people about diabetes.
He ends our conversation with the reason for his passion. "We don't live in a cocoon ... we impact the lives of others. And if I can save one person's life ... that's my goal ... that would be a miracle."
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