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Diabetes Now & Then: Dan Hurley’s Personal Journey With Diabetes Through The Years

A journalist's insights on reporting on diabetes

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

Dan Hurley

There have been plenty of books written about diabetes, thousands in fact. If you go onto Amazon.com you currently get over 17,000 results when searching for diabetes books. But few have garnered as much attention or spelled out the rise in diabetes more than Dan Hurley’s 2010 book Diabetes Rising.

Diabetes Rising has gotten plenty of national attention and for good reason – it’s a fascinating read. Dan recently gave some of his time to explain his story and what went into the book. He gives an incredibly interesting portrait into where diabetes came from, where it is now and where it is going in the future. In my next post, we’re going to dig much deeper into the book, but first I wanted the chance to share Dan’s personal diabetes journey with you.

Dan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just after going away to Beloit College in Wisconsin.

“It was my first time away from home and I was feeling crappy, peeing a lot, drinking a lot. I was so tired,” Dan said. “Over Thanksgiving I went to visit my brother who lived in Iowa. I felt so sick I couldn’t eat dinner. The next morning I was throwing up. By the time I got back to school at the end of the weekend I was just lying in bed. I thought I had the flu. I finally went to the hospital and the guy took a urine test and said, ‘Bingo, you’ve got diabetes.’”

Dan said he had little idea what diabetes was upon receiving the diagnosis. He also said that at the time, most of the physicians and medical personnel he encountered had a relaxed approach in caring for diabetes patients.

“I happened to get diagnosed at a time in the field that people were all saying they were going to cure diabetes any day. They found a cure in mice, so ‘let’s not bother these poor diabetics, driving them crazy with some regimented diet,’” Dan said. “They said, ‘let’s be looser.’ That view was the reigning medical view for much of the ‘70s.”

A perfect example of that is how doctors told Dan to approach his diet after his diagnosis.

“Rather than following a diet of ‘You need to eat this’, it was ‘Don’t eat too much sugar. If you used to have two scoops of ice cream, just have one,’” Dan said. “Being 18 and away from home and being strong headed, I tried to proceed as if the only change I needed to make was that I have to take my injections once a day. That did not go well. I had a bunch of episodes where I was in the hospital with severe hypoglycemia.”

After college, Dan moved to New York City and said he eventually met diabetes writer Zachary Bloomgarden, who gave the advice to test blood sugar and test often. He said after years of feeling poorly after highs and lows, he jumped at the new advice and “took responsibility.”

Dan was trained as a writer and said when he began working professionally he was drawn to more scientific writing. Working for a medical news service, Dan was even sent to cover the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial results from the American Diabetes Association where they announced tight control of blood sugar significantly reduced long-term complications. However, while covering the event, Dan got a slap of diabetes reality.

“While I was there, I got low blood sugar and had to race back to the media room to drink some juice,” Dan joked.

Dan remembers key developments in diabetes care since his diagnosis.

“When I was living in St. Louis in 1981 I knew a guy who worked at the ADA office. One day he brought home these new things, strips to test your own blood sugar,” Dan said. “You put a drop of blood on it and you matched the color to see what your blood sugar is. I asked ‘How do you get a drop of blood?’ He had no idea. So I was literally sitting there with a pin sticking myself. It was so painful. I was doing it over and over. After taking forever to get a drop of blood and eventually getting a drop, I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ A couple years later those strips were everywhere.”

Dan’s involvement in writing and participating with medical advances in diabetes has led all the way up to him participating in a clinical trial for the artificial pancreas, one of the medical advancements and biggest steps in the future of diabetes that Dan spends plenty of time on in Diabetes Rising. The artificial pancreas uses an insulin pump, blood sugar meter and computer chip to automatically control blood sugar levels without the user having to manually monitor their blood sugar levels. The user simply has to resupply the insulin to the meter.

“I was so thrilled to participate in one of those trials. When I was participating, it was the only one of its kind in the U.S., run through the University of Virginia,” Dan said. “It was so moving, the one night I was on the device, I didn’t have to test my BG. At one point I teared up. I thought, ‘Oh, I need to test.’ Suddenly I realized that I didn’t need to. My BG was fine, it’s taken care of.”

“You really have to be a type 1 to realize what a royal pain in the butt it is to worry about. It’s hard to wrap your head around, having to test, it’s just another thing you have to pay attention to. Not having to do that after almost 30 years, it was heaven.”

Dan’s experience with the artificial pancreas leads us into part two of our conversation. We’ll talk more about what led Dan to write Diabetes Rising and some of what he covers in the book on Wednesday. It’s really fascinating, just like the author.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Dan Hurley received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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