Dr. Gerry Canlas of Downtown Orlando just turned 71. Claire Maiocco, a resident of Winter Park, is a 15-year-old sophomore at Trinity Preparatory School. Desmond Edwards, Jr., is 40 and lives in MetroWest. Dr. Canlas hails from the Philippines, Claire is a native Floridian, and Desmond grew up in New York. At face value, these three seem to have nothing in common, but they do share a bond along with 29.1 million other Americans. They have diabetes, a disease still ridded with mystery—and not going anywhere soon.
A Tale of Two Types
“Diabetes is on the rise,” says Pauline E. Lowe, director, programs and mission for the local Orlando office of the American Diabetes Association (ADA). That’s why the ADA is focusing so much on prevention, especially considering there are so many cases in the pipeline. While there are approximately 166,272 people diagnosed with diabetes in Orange and Seminole counties, close to 600,000 more have pre-diabetes. Without weight loss or moderate physical activity, 15 to 30 percent of them will develop Type 2 within five years. Most cases of Type 2 are preventable; there is no known prevention for Type 1.
Because Type 1 historically was diagnosed mostly in children, it has been referred to as juvenile diabetes. But since more cases of Type 1 are being discovered in 40- and 50-year-olds, the label “juvenile” is being phased out.
Martin Bernstine, executive director, JDRF, formally the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, says the number of adults diagnosed with Type 1 is up 30 percent in the Orlando area. “It’s not a lifestyle thing, like Type 2,” he says. “It’s an autoimmune disease, and we don’t know exactly what the triggers are.” With Type 1, a patient is insulin dependent since the pancreas does not produce insulin. In Type 2, the body is insulin resistant so lifestyle changes and medications, many times, give the patient the control they need.
The ADA continues to step up its fight to prevent and defeat both types of diabetes. Last year, it sunk $35.75 million to support a broad spectrum of diabetes research.
Living with Type 1
Claire Maiocco was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 4 years old. Of the millions of people with diabetes, only about 5 percent have Type 1.
“We were totally freaking out,” says her mom, Kathy, about the day she and her husband, Robert, were told of the diagnosis. “You have a normal kid one day, then it’s all about blood sugar and shots. We had to take a four-hour crash course in how to keep our kid alive.”
It took some adjustment time, but today it’s business as usual for the family of three. Claire has gone from two to five insulin shots a day to wearing an insulin pump that creates its own doses mimicking the pancreas with some manual prodding. She monitors her blood sugar throughout the day and mentally calculates the amount of carbohydrates she ingests. But it never gets her down.
“I just keep doing what I have been doing,” she says. “I never let it stop me from doing anything—swimming, surfing, rock climbing. I never will.” Not only that, she excels at what she does, especially in swimming. She’s an All-American; her times are in the top 100 in the nation. This past summer, Claire was a member of two Girls State Relay records with Trinity Prep Aquatics. This month, she is back in the pool, setting out to break more records.
“She has to be disciplined,” says Kathy. “It is more complicated to be an athlete with Type 1, but it can be done.” She commends Rocco Aceto, Trinity Prep Aquatics head coach, with staying astutely aware if Claire’s energy levels change.
Not surprising, Claire hopes to become a mentor to others with Type 1. “I want to tell them that they can do anything. You cannot let it control you. Accept it and manage it. You can’t let it manage you.”
As a retired doctor, Gerry Canlas knew how important lifestyle changes were to controlling diabetes long before it became gospel. Diagnosed 15 years ago during a routine exam at age 55, he now takes Metformin to control his blood sugar and live a normal life.
“The treatment is in the lifestyle changes,” he says. “I exercise, watch what I eat and am a well-informed patient.” He walks five miles a day, maintains his normal weight and takes the medication twice a day. Being from the Philippines, which has high incidences of diabetes, the anesthesiologist’s condition is hereditary.
ADA’s Lowe says lifestyle changes for preventing and beating diabetes were simply anecdotal eight years ago, but has since been clinically proven, just as Dr. Canlas thought. Today, for example, being obese is a trigger most everyone agrees on, especially Desmond Edwards.
“When I was first diagnosed with Type 2, I was overweight (270 pounds) and did not have a single thought about working out,” he says. “I realized after seeing people I cared about struggle with diabetes that I wanted to beat it.”
Desmond changed his eating habits and started to exercise, which included cycling 100 miles in the ADA Tour de Cure in 2013 and 2014. Doctors prescribed Metformin and Glipizide. He lost 50 pounds, and a year-plus later, he is off his medication. “I can see the results of my hard work and determination,” he says.
One hundred years ago, the average life expectancy for a 10-year-old child with diabetes was about one year, according to the Defeat Diabetes Foundation. At age 30, you had four years to live.A newly diagnosed 50-year-old might have lived eight years. Desmond, Gerry and Claire are fortunate to be diagnosed at a time when advancements in medicine have helped diabetes patients live somewhat normal lives.