April 01, 2015
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Diabetes Rising


Editor's Note:
Diabetes used to be rare. But today it is an epidemic and an industry, affecting millions of people. Diabetes Rising, How a Rare Disease Became a Modern Pandemic, and What to Do About It covers both the history of the phenomenal rise of this disease and the factors contributing to its growth. Here is a chance to become acquainted with some of the researchers and public policy people working to stem the tide.

Dan Hurley is a medical journalist who has diabetes. As a result of his research on this book, he has become an activist who believes that diabetics need to stop blaming themselves for their disease and instead push for more research. Diabetes Rising presents life-changing and potentially life-saving information.

Twelve miles west of Boston lies its wealthiest, and seemingly healthiest, suburb. Along its winding, wooded roads, one can find a private tennis club, two golf clubs (including the 115−year−old Weston Golf Club and the nationally known Pine Brook Country Club), 13 soc­cer fields, and 19 baseball diamonds— and not a single fast−food restau­rant. Established in 1713, the town has the highest median household income in Massachusetts, as well as the state’s best public school system, according to Boston magazine. Its recreation department offers nearly 500 classes a year in yoga, karate, gymnastics, swimming, fencing, basketball, Pilates — even tap dancing. David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox live there. Ray Allen of the Celtics lives just over the town line. The scent of overripe apples fills the air in the autumn, when tourists drive past the town’s old stone walls and buy pumpkins from its roadside stands. Storybook beautiful, Weston is the kind of place where parents dream of raising their children.

No other children in the elementary school that Kelley and Ashley attended had diabetes; the school nurse there had never before treated the disease, and had to learn everything from scratch.

So it took 41−year−old Rikki Conley by surprise when, early on the morning of September 17, 2007, she heard that another child in town might have the same rare, incurable, life−threatening illness that both of her young daughters, Ashley and Kelley, had been battling for years: type 1 diabetes mellitus— formerly known as “childhood onset,” “insu­lin−dependent,” or “juvenile” diabetes.

“That’s ridiculous,” Rikki thought to herself while speaking on the telephone to the mother of Kelley’s best friend.

No other children in the elementary school that Kelley and Ashley attended had diabetes; the school nurse there had never before treated the disease, and had to learn everything from scratch. In fact, Rikki had to drive to other towns to attend coffees for parents of diabetic children hosted by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. So the idea that Kelley’s best friend’s brother, Gus, could now have it too — especially since the two families were so friendly, having occasionally gotten together for dinner or swimming— struck Rikki as simply impossible. And the pretty blue−eyed mom with honey−blond hair had as good a grasp of such things as any non−expert; after all, her husband, Kevin, was chairman of the board of the Joslin Diabetes Center, perhaps the most famous diabetes treatment and research institution in the world.

But here was Gus’s mother, Ann Marie Kreft, calling her at 6:30 on a Monday morning.

“He had to go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes this weekend,” Ann Marie said of her seven−year−old son, citing one of the cardinal symptoms. “Last night I saw him holding a water bottle under the faucet and then guzzling it. He’s even started wetting the bed.”

“I’ll come right over and do a blood−sugar test,” Rikki said calmly, now convinced that Ann Marie’s suspicions weren’t so groundless.

Within minutes of getting off the phone with Rikki, Ann Marie saw Gus wander out of his bedroom in his “bug” jammies, the ones with drawings of bugs all over them. By the time they made it down to the kitchen, Rikki was already pulling up in her minivan. Ann Marie’s husband, Tim, was fixing breakfast for Gus, his older sister, and younger brother.

“What’s Mrs. Conley doing here?” Gus asked when Rikki walked in.

“She brought Kelley’s check,” Ann Marie answered, using the Conley family’s term for a blood−sugar meter. “She needs to do a check on you.”

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