Fifteen-year-old Jack Stuart attends Grade 10 at Handsworth Secondary in North Vancouver. He’s not so different from his classmates – he likes to ski, play sports and is on the basketball team – yet there is always something on his mind.
“Every other kid is just thinking about his plans for the day – I have to think about diabetes,” says Jack, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) when he was five years old.
Jack manages his diabetes by regularly checking his blood glucose levels and injecting insulin. And even though he’s been doing that for most of his life, it doesn’t get any easier. “It’s a struggle that I go through every day and it gets harder as I grow,” he explains. “Maybe that’s because when I was little, a lot of the responsibilities were on my parents and now they’ve shifted to me.”
Yet with age also came the understanding that the insulin shots are crucial to Jack’s well-being – T1D is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. If the disease isn’t managed properly, patients run the risk of blindness, kidney failure and even limb amputation.
“Everyone on the basketball team knows I have diabetes, they admire that I don’t let that hold me back,” says Jack. “They support me 100 per cent.”
While Jack’s friends know that he has to manage his diabetes, he’s found that there is still a misconception about the disease. “A lot of people don’t know the difference between type 1 and type 2,” he explains. “I would like to get that out there that there’s a huge difference. Type 2 diabetes is curable – type 1 is not… yet.”
Jack believes that JDRF, an organization dedicated to T1D research funding and advocacy, is close to finding a cure.
Dave Prowten, Canada’s president and CEO of JDRF, also believes the search for the cure has accelerated at an impressive pace. He explains that decades of research efforts have led to an understanding of T1D that is prompting a number of potentially life-changing therapies.
“I think it’s going to take several years. But as the immune system gets more and more understood, I think it will be possible to figure it out,” he says. “We have some amazing people in Canada doing best-in-class work. We just want to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.”
That is good news for Jack. “I was so young when I was diagnosed, so I can’t really remember life without needles, without being pricked every day,” he says, adding that a cure “would be a dream come true – it would be amazing.”
In addition to funding the most promising research, JDRF helps newly diagnosed kids, teenagers and adults manage their diabetes, says Jack. “JDRF is very family-oriented, they’ve really been there for us and they support every family [affected by T1D].”
Through his work as a youth ambassador for JDRF, Jack hasbeen involved in raising awareness about T1D at the government level. In addition to going to Ottawa, he was the only Canadian delegate to attend a conference in Washington, D.C., presenting the topic in front of Congress. And he came away inspired.
“I’ve met many people living with T1D, including some very young children, and found we all have the same story,” he says. “I don’t think diabetes is holding any of us back – we are just like any other children growing up even if we face this daily challenge.”
While Jack doesn’t have any defined plans for his future, he believes JDRF will be a part of it. “I want to continue to help out with kids with diabetes as a JDRF ambassador,” he says.
The well-being of people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) largely depends on their ability to successfully manage the disease. A recent survey of T1D patients, caregivers and health-care professionals found that exercise and food are among the top five challenges they face.
About 36 per cent of people with T1D view exercise as a challenge on which they would like to have more information. JDRF, the largest charitable funder and advocate for T1D research with the mission to find a cure for diabetes and its complications, has launched a multi-year education initiative to address that need.
The new JDRF outreach initiative titled “T1D Performance in Exercise and Knowledge (PEAK)” will increase education on the management of physical activity for individuals with T1D and is supported by a three-year, $5-million grant from Novo Nordisk, a global health-care company with more than 90 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care.
A portion of the grant will also be attributed to research and development expanding on JDRF’s previous partnerships.
During the program’s first and second years, a panel of leading T1D experts will develop a curriculum that will be used to educate health-care providers at pilot events. The third year of the program will focus on patient education at events hosted by international JDRF chapters.
The education curriculum will touch on the environmental, dietary and physiological elements that impact physical activity with T1D.
For more related to this story visit jdrf.ca