The newest entrant into the B.C. NDP leadership race could become the first premier with Type 1 diabetes. In an interview with the Georgia Straight last month, Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix said he hasn’t felt held back by the chronic disease.
“I think quite the opposite,” Dix said. “You know, it makes you more organized in your life. There is no question about that. It makes you more disciplined in your life.”
He noted that 20 years ago, a person with Type 1 diabetes wasn’t allowed to become a police officer. That is no longer the case.
“I would argue—having met several of them—that people who deal with diabetes in that way are often the kind of people you want in those kind of jobs,” Dix said. “It’s not a strength or a weakness. It’s part of me. I live with it every day. I don’t worry about it too much.”
This evening (January 17), Dix announced at Vancouver’s Sir Guy Carleton elementary that he will seek the B.C. NDP leadership. Late last year, he played a key role in a successful campaign to stop the Vancouver school board from closing the school.
In 1992, Dix was 28 years old and a week away from running in a Seattle marathon when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Something was definitely wrong because he felt like he was getting progressively sicker. In addition, he was constantly eating and urinating.
He ended up in hospital where he was stabilized, and within a year, he was back running again.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that kills beta cells in the pancreas. Without beta cells, a person cannot naturally produce insulin, which absorbs blood sugar and converts it into energy.
James Hirsch, author of Cheating Destiny: Living with Diabetes, American’s Biggest Epidemic, wrote in his 2006 book that abnormal thirst, known as polydipsia, is an early symptom. When this happens, excess glucose is peed out of the body, which makes the person want to drink more fluids.
“As the disease progresses, the body burns its own fat for energy, leading to a similar cycle of insatiable hunger, followed by rapid weight loss,” Hirsch noted.
Chronically high blood sugar damages the internal organs, leading to several complications. Those may include blindness, heart disease, kidney damage, and amputations. Dix takes regular insulin injections to control his levels.
But even those who take regular insulin face risks because there is a possibility that blood-sugar levels can fall too low. This may result in a person drifting off into a potentially fatal diabetic coma.
Dix said that Type 1 diabetes has “profoundly” helped him as the NDP health critic in understanding issues other people might be facing.
“Every day is a new day when you have a chronic disease,” he said. “I don’t underestimate it.”
In a 2007 interview with the Straight, Dix criticized the cost of glucose-test strips, which are essential for diabetics to test their blood-sugar levels. They cost $1 each, and people with the disease test themselves up to eight times a day.
“No one can tell me those don't cost pennies to make,” Dix said.
As health critic, he helped persuade then-health minister George Abbott to have PharmaCare cover the cost of insulin pumps for children and adolescents with Type 1 diabetes. These devices help control insulin levels without the need for regular injections, freeing people from using needles several times a day
Famous people with Type 1 diabetes include actor Mary Tyler Moore, Poison’s lead singer Bret Michaels, and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.