Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor is type 1 diabetic

I didn't know until a friend mentioned it to me tonight that Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, is type 1 diabetic. As soon as I got home, I looked it up online, and found an astonishing range of good and bad articles on the subject.

This is one of the good ones: Sotomayor's Type 1 Diabetes is 'Non-Issue,' Says Docs

The article quotes a couple of doctors saying — rightfully so — that having diabetes doesn't necessarily mean a person is in poor health. It also has a very accurate description of type 1 diabetes and the risks that go along with it, such as hypoglycemia.

Type 1 diabetics can’t metabolize sugar because their disease has killed off the insulin-producing cells that normally perform that function. As a result, they must monitor their blood-sugar levels and take insulin several times a day to manage their conditions. By keeping their blood-sugar levels within an acceptable range, sufferers can decrease their risks for heart attacks and other side effects, say experts.

“There’s absolutely no reason why the fact that she has diabetes should be a factor in her longevity or should affect her ability to serve” on the Supreme Court, said Christopher Saudek, director of the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center in Baltimore.

If sufferers exert themselves more strenuously than normal, or fail to eat enough, their glucose levels can drop too far, and they can feel disoriented or even faint. William Ahearn, a spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said most patients can sense their blood-sugar levels plunging and sip some juice, nibble on a candy bar or drink soda to prevent an episode.

Unfortunately, not all of the articles are this positive or this accurate. Take this one, for example: Sotomayor's Diabetes: Will it Be a Handicap?

This article had a much more negative outlook not to mention several screaming inaccuracies. Not even the picture is accurate — how many diabetics inject into the vein these days, let alone with a needle that sign? Then you also have this paragraph, which contains two examples of the misconceptions often found in the media:

Once known as juvenile diabetes, Type 1 diabetes typically begins in childhood — Sotomayor was diagnosed at age 8 — eventually causing the body to slow production of insulin, the hormone necessary to break down sugars found in food. (In Type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes the pancreas continues to make insulin, but the body fails to respond properly to the hormone's signals.) While it is not yet clear what causes Type 1 diabetes, some experts believe that a patient's own immune system starts to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, ultimately leading to a drop-off in hormone production.

The first inaccuracy in this paragraph is the statement that type 1 diabetes causes "the body to slow production of insulin." That's not exactly wrong, but it's not exactly right, either. Dead beta cells = NO insulin produced. Furthermore, as the beta cells are killed off, the remaining cells actually increase insulin production until there are no longer enough to keep up. The article makes it sound like the individual cells gradually produce less and less, rather than being completely snuffed out one at a time.

The last statement also pisses me off: "While it is not yet clearwhat causes Type 1 diabetes, some experts believe that a patient's own immune system starts to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas." Some experts believe, my a$$! Newsflash: We actually do know that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It's the cause of the autoimmune response that we aren't sure of. Time, could you please get a writer next time who is actually capable of understanding medical science?

My little rant has unfortunately gotten me away from my original topic, which was Sonia Sotomayor being type 1 diabetic. Despite the media's misrepresentation of her condition, I have to say that I am thrilled at the thought of having a diabetic (not to mention a woman and a minority) being in such an influential position. Not only do I hope that she'll be able to make some decisions that result in better diabetes research, but I also hope that having a diabetic in the political spotlight will eventually help to end some of the misconceptions about type 1 diabetes.

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