Miller, Mark James

The day couldn’t have been lovelier, and the people gathered couldn’t have been more charged with enthusiasm, when master of ceremonies John Palminteri of KEYT News announced it was time for the 5K walk to begin.

With a release of balloons and the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon across the entranceway, the 2017 Santa Barbara Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation One Walk began at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7, along Ledbetter Beach.

The walk is an annual event, and the tagline for this year’s march was “Turn Type One Into Type None.” The motto of the JDRF is “Imagine A World Without Type 1 Diabetes.”

Type 1 Diabetes is a disease of the autoimmune system. The body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, causing the pancreas to stop producing insulin. The causes of this chronic illness are not completely understood, but scientists believe genetic factors and environmental issues play the major roles. It cannot be prevented, and there is no cure.

Type 1 Diabetes should not be confused with Type 2, for the diseases are quite different. Type 1 is usually associated with children, although it can strike at any age, while Type 2 typically occurs in people past 30 years old. Type 2 is associated with obesity, as well as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Type 2 can sometimes be treated by changes in lifestyle, such as diet and exercise, rather than with medication, whereas Type 1 requires daily shots of insulin and continual monitoring of blood sugar levels to keep the patient alive.

Type 1 diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, behind heart disease, cancer and stroke, claiming 80,000 lives every year. It affects more than 1.25 million Americans, with 40,000 new cases being diagnosed annually.

The yearly health-care costs are $14 billion. These numbers are expected to increase, as the JDRF estimates that 5 million Americans will have Type 1 by 2050.

While there is no cure in sight, there is hope. Insulin pumps that automatically monitor blood-sugar levels and provide insulin as needed are becoming more common. Artificial pancreas’s that take blood monitoring and insulin delivery to the next level are now hitting the market. This is not an organ transplant but a small device worn outside the body that does the work of the pancreas. Specially-trained diabetic alert dogs can warn a diabetic or their caregivers when his/her blood sugar gets too low or too high.

In spite of these advances, living with Type 1 diabetes is challenging, to put it mildly. It is a life-threatening disease and requires constant attention on the diabetics’ part. As Mary Tyler Moore, who was diagnosed with type 1 in 1969 and was for many years chairperson of the JDRF, put it, diabetics “need to be constantly factoring and adjusting … to check blood sugars, and giving ourselves multiple daily insulin shots just to stay alive.”

Among the other famous people who have had type 1 diabetes: Actresses Sharon Stone, Vanessa Williams and Halle Berry, author Anne Rice, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actor Peter O’Toole, baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

Every year more than 900,000 people take part in 200 of these JDRF-sponsored walks across the U.S., all with the goal of raising money for research devoted to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. For someone like myself, who lost a son to type 1 diabetes in 2009, there can be no worthier cause than searching for a way to make “Type One Type None.”

Mark James Miller teaches English at Allan Hancock College. He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com.

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