Kimberly Price’s lifelong struggle with type 1 diabetes inspired her family to make a gift supporting her endocrinologist’s promising research.
>> Kimberly Price’s white shih tzu, Jackson, senses when she’s in trouble. He’s woken her up twice now by nipping at her fingers, alerting her to call someone for help.
Kimberly’s protective little dog helps her cope with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that’s shaped her life since she was 5 years old. Growing up in New York state, Kimberly dealt with teachers and classmates who didn’t understand her illness, particularly since diabetes wasn’t common in children then. “Everybody’s grandpa had it,” she says.
These days, type 2 diabetes is part of the American vernacular, due to the attention it’s drawn in the fight against obesity. Type 1, however — what Kimberly has — remains misunderstood.
Understanding the Difference
>> Despite the fact that as many as 3 million Americans have type 1 diabetes and an additional 80 people are diagnosed daily, many people assume type 1 is the same as type 2.
With type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes), a person’s immune system destroys the cells that release insulin and, eventually, the body stops producing it. Without insulin, the body can’t break down glucose (sugar) into energy. There’s no cure and nothing a person can do to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes represents about 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases. With type 2, the body doesn’t use insulin correctly and, as it worsens, the pancreas may produce less and less insulin. Family history of the illness increases the likelihood of getting type 2, but it can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle.
Walking a Tightrope
>> Living with type 1 diabetes has been described as walking a tightrope — all day, every day, taking action to anticipate, prevent and recover from blood sugar going too high or too low.
Kimberly’s illness could shorten her life expectancy by 15 years and affects her every single minute. As a child, she says she resented dietary restrictions and asking permission to eat at school when her blood sugar levels dropped. Her teenage years were even worse and “really rough,” marked by rebelliousness and self-neglect.
Kimberly’s mother, Shirley Price, a special education teacher, had her own challenges. “I probably overcompensated by trying to be there every moment at her school, from kindergarten on,” Shirley says. “I became such a fixture at the school — I felt I had to go and fight for my child.”
Throughout her 20s, Kimberly had trouble controlling symptoms, including mood swings, neuropathy, lethargy and vision damage that led to eight surgeries. Even though she’s doing better now, she says her busy life as a teacher requires a daily balancing act.
What the Future Holds
>> Long term, Kimberly hopes to become an advocate for families coping with chronic illness, sharing with them what she’s learned, often the hard way. Their experiences also led the Prices, now of Aurora, Ohio, to make a generous gift through their family foundation supporting the work of Kimberly’s endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic, Betul Hatipoglu, MD.
Dr. Hatipoglu is researching autologous pancreatic cell islet transplantation therapy for patients with chronic pancreatitis, a disease that can impair the body’s ability to digest food and regulate blood sugar and can damage the liver. The therapy infuses the patient’s own islet cells into the liver to produce insulin.
“Our research helps us better understand islet cell physiology,” says Dr. Hatipoglu, “and could lead to a cure for type 1 diabetes.”