Lobegon Participants Continue to Dwindle

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Are you keeping warm out there? Our high on Sunday was minus 2 degrees. We also had about 1 foot of snow on top of the 8 inches we already had on the ground. I may stay indoors until we’re well into spring. Or summer.

The weather wasn’t the only yucky thing that happened: I got a call, saw the name of a friend on my phone’s screen, and thought he was calling me. But it was his wife, using his phone because my number was stored there, to tell me he had passed away.

It hit me doubly hard — not only because Roger was a delightful gentleman, but because he was the fifth Lobegoner to depart this world.

Camp Lobegon wasn’t really a camp and our lows weren’t gone, although they didn’t last long. We had some pretty good cooks attending.

The location was on a private lake with a handful of cabins in rural-as-heck Indiana where friends gathered for a few days in the summer. We brought spouses, children, maybe a friend or a sibling if we wanted. The only requirement was that at least one person in each family had to have diabetes and, as it turns out, all of the ones who did were insulin pumpers. I was the token Type 2; everybody else had Type 1.

There was a core group that came to camp every year, others that came most years, and still others that might have attended only once. We met for nine years. All together, 16 people had diabetes. To have had five of those pass means that nearly one-third of those with diabetes are gone: Spot, Dauna, Dave, Liz, and Roger.

Roger was in his 60’s. If Spot were still with us, he’d be in his 70’s. The rest would be in their 50’s.

Does that mean we’re all going to kick off young? Not necessarily. All of those people were diagnosed before self-monitoring, before insulin analogs (which mimic the natural pattern of insulin release), before insulin pumps, before continuous glucose monitors, before food labels, before the HbA1c, and before a whole lot of knowledge.

I would venture to say that all of those people took just one injection of NPH insulin once a day at some point and had maybe four blood glucose checks a year.

It wasn’t much better for the oral medication folks. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that sulfonylureas — meds that stimulate the pancreas to make more insulin — were available. Metformin was approved in the United States in the 1990’s — 40 years later. Since then, the market has exploded, with oral and injectable medications that target a number of pathways that contribute to controlling diabetes.

With all of the advances, life expectancy has greatly increased among people with diabetes who have good control. A release about results of a study presented at the 2011 American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions in San Diego says life expectancy varies according to when diagnosis occurred. The study was conducted using people with Type 1 diabetes.

Those who were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes between 1950 and 1964 could expect to live for an estimated 53.4 years. Between 1965 and 1980, it was 68.8 years for somebody with Type 1, compared to 72.4 years for the general population.

The death rate was 35.6% for the 1950 to 1964 group. That dropped to 11.6% for the 1965 to 1980 group.

That’s an improvement in life expectancy of 15 years. At the same time, the authors said, the expectancy for the general population improved by only one year. I couldn’t find anything that covered the years beyond 1980, but who knows? People with Type 1 could now be living longer, on average, than the general population.

As an aside, researchers didn’t have to go back even 100 years to find that people with Type 1 diabetes had a very short lifespan. Insulin wasn’t available until 1922. My own great-grandmother died because insulin was unavailable.

Because the research was done using data on people with Type 1, the results cannot be used for people with Type 2. I just tell myself that if good control lowers the risk of complications and increases life expectancy for Type 1s, it should work for Type 2s as well.

But isn’t it amazing how increased knowledge and modern-day inventions contribute to our health and longevity?

My first meter, which I got in 1994, took a gallon of blood (OK, a huge drop), and you had to drop the blood on the strip, wait one minute, wipe it off, then put it into the meter and wait another minute for the results. My meter now? A tiny pinprick of a drop and a result almost before I can take another breath. I also have a continuous glucose monitor — or will as soon as it gets here. The battery died on my last one.

In 15 years, my insulin pumps have gone from one with two buttons and not many functions beyond dispensing insulin to a touch-screen one with all manner of useful features including my favorite: It commits math.

Let’s all hold our friends close, take care of ourselves, and have a healthy new year.

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