85-year-old man with Type 1 diabetes shatters expectations

Published: Dec. 6, 2019 at 3:49 PM EST
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There are more than a million people who have Type 1 diabetes, and they're expected to live at least 10 years less than Americans without it.

In fact, there are only 90 diabetics who have lived more than 70 years.

But one man crushed that goal 15 years ago and is telling others how they can do it too.

Eighty-five-year-old Don Ray can't remember a life without diabetes.

As a child, Don could not go to gym class. He couldn't play sports. He couldn't even play hide and seek.

"Because if you were to hide, and they can't find you and you have an insulin reaction or a hypoglycemia, you might really be in trouble because they will never find you," Don explains.

He was told he wouldn't live past his 30s. But eventually he got tired of hearing, "You can't, you can't, you can't."

"I would go to gym class when I started school in kindergarten and first grade, and I'd sit in the chair in gym class and I'd watch these kids, and I knew I could do this, cause I just knew I could do this," Don says.

Don and his dad started playing catch, and that turned into 20 years of playing football and 30 years of baseball.

And he did it because "he followed the rules," according to Betul Hatipoglu, MD, at the Cleveland Clinic.

What rules? First make sure your blood sugar is in check: between 80 and 130 milligrams. If it's too low, eat some carbs, but don't forget to check while working out.

"If they are going to exercise for an hour, they have to check it in 30 minutes again to make sure they are still in the safe zone," Hatipoglu says.

But don't take too much insulin before your meal or before your workout.

"So if you are going to exercise after lunch, for lunch you take less insulin so it is safer for you," Hatipoglu says.

And if you're working out after dinner, be careful as well. You don't want any overnight complications.

"If you take care of the disease, the disease will take care of you, and you can if you take care of yourself," Hatipoglu explains.

Nowadays, there are nearly 140,000 people diagnosed with diabetes each year in the U.S. alone. But in 30 years, an expected five million Americans will be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.


BACKGROUND: Glucose is a critical source of energy for your brain, muscles, and tissues. When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose and this triggers the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts as a "key" that allows glucose to enter the cells from the blood. Your body can't function or perform properly if it doesn't produce enough insulin to effectively manage glucose. This is what produces the symptoms of diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications by damaging blood vessels and organs. It also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and eye disease. Nutrition and exercise help manage diabetes, but it's also important to track blood glucose levels. Treatment may include taking insulin or other medications. (Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/facts-statistics-infographic#1)

COPING WITH TYPE 1 DIABETES: People who have had type 1 diabetes for a long time may develop what's called "diabetes burnout." This can happen when you start to feel burdened by the disease. A good support system is essential to coping with type 1 diabetes. Spending time with friends and family or talking with someone you trust are ways to manage diabetes distress, which can include stress and anxiety. Taking good care of yourself can reduce diabetes stress and help you cope with the condition. Making sure to eat well, exercise, and learn how to monitor blood sugar levels are important. Getting enough sleep each night and taking time to relax and enjoy life are also very important. There are resources available to help you manage type 1 diabetes such as apps designed to count carbs, watch blood sugar levels, and track progress with diet and exercise. The more you know about your condition, the better prepared you'll be at taking care of yourself. Your doctor can also recommend books about type 1 diabetes. (Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/type-1-diabetes/living-with-type-1/how-you-can-cope#4)

NEW DISCOVERY FOR DIABETES: Matthias Hebrok, PhD, director of the UCSF diabetes center, and Gopika Nair, PhD, have discovered how to transform human stem cells into healthy, insulin producing beta cells. "We can now generate insulin-producing cells that look and act a lot like the pancreatic beta cells you and I have in our bodies. This is a critical step towards our goal of creating cells that could be transplanted into patients with diabetes," said Dr. Hebrok. For the longest time, scientists could only produce cells at an immature stage that were unable to respond to blood sugar levels and secrete insulin properly. The team discovered that mimicking the "islet" formation of cells in the pancreas helped the cells mature. These cells were then transplanted into mice and found that they were fully functional, producing insulin and responding to changes in blood sugar levels. Dr. Hebrok's team is already in collaboration with various colleagues to make these cells transplantable into patients. (Source: https://blog.cirm.ca.gov/2019/02/05/breakthrough-for-type-1-diabetes-scientist-discovers-how-to-grow-insulin-producing-cells/)