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Dan Lim and Suzy Johnston: Fearless support for Diabetes Canada

There is perhaps nothing a parent fears more than hearing that their child has a life-changing illness. Dan Lim and Suzy Johnston came face to face with that fear 13 years ago when their son Tristan, then a very active six-year-old, suddenly started to lose weight and go to the bathroom a lot. Within hours of a visit to his pediatrician, they had the diagnosis: type 1 diabetes.

“We were shocked,” says Lim. “We had no familiarity with diabetes, so it was a whirlwind for our family to learn about the disease.” But they soon found that they had “awesome” medical care and encouragement to help them not just learn about life with diabetes, but thrive. The family is grateful for the support they received from Diabetes Canada, especially Camp Huronda. Tristan started attending the summer camp, two hours north of their Toronto home, at age 8.

At Camp Huronda, Tristan learned that he could do anything, regardless of his diabetes. It was very empowering,

says Johnston. Tristan continued attending camp into his teens. As he got older, he began fundraising and giving speeches at diabetes awareness events.

Lim is a highly regarded photographer who is a fan of motorcycles; Johnston is his agent. In 2016, they decided to create their own fundraising event, Fearless TO, which raises funds for Diabetes Canada. The one-night charity auction features Lim’s prints that celebrate riders, their machines, and their fearless embrace of life.

The couple has held Fearless TO for the past three years, and is planning an even bigger event for 2020. “Fearless TO has grown in size and spectacle each year and has raised over $35,000 to date,” says Maria Petri, Diabetes Canada’s Ontario regional director. “Dan and Suzy’s commitment to and passion for Diabetes Canada is evident with all they do.”

Tristan, who helps plan the exhibits, is now a young man and self-managing his diabetes well with an insulin pump. He is currently travelling the world, working as a model—and modelling a fearless life with diabetes.

The last word

“When Tristan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, we didn’t know anyone with the disease. Through our show, we constantly meet people who have diabetes or have a family member with diabetes. We are realizing that so many people live with this disease and need support.” — Suzy Johnston, mother of a child with type 1 diabetes

“Dan and Suzy continue to support Diabetes Canada and those affected by diabetes by raising funds and awareness, and creating connections in numerous communities. This year we were so pleased and honoured to present the Fearless team with Diabetes Canada’s Outstanding Regional Partnership Award.” — Maria Petri, Ontario regional director, Diabetes Canada

Photo by: Liz Gareri

Dr. Peter Senior: Research that will improve lives

In 2002, Dr. Peter Senior came to the University of Alberta from Newcastle, England, to spend a year learning about the Edmonton Protocol, the revolutionary procedure in which insulin-producing islet cells are transplanted from the pancreas of a donor into a person with type 1 diabetes.

More than 17 years later, the endocrinologist is still there. As the director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of Alberta, and medical director of Alberta Health Services’ Clinical Islet Transplant Program, Senior is at the cutting edge of diabetes research. In addition to his work to refine islet transplantation, he and his team are also looking at ways to “reboot” the immune system in type 1 diabetes. The idea is to use highly targeted drugs to knock out the parts of the immune system that attack insulin-producing cells, then use other drugs to help the immune system recover and create healthy cells.

“This is very exciting and important work,” says Senior. “Although rebooting the immune system might not be the final answer, this research moves our knowledge forward.”

He compares diabetes research to a horse race. Various treatments—cell transplant, the artificial pancreas, immune system reboot—move back and forth for the lead.

“I don’t mind which one wins. I just want to see life for people with diabetes become longer, healthier, and less complicated,” he says.

He is encouraged by a new trend in diabetes research in which patients work with researchers to ensure the research has practical value. He co-leads the Innovations in Type 1 Diabetes Goal Group, which is part of Diabetes Action Canada, a research organization that partners with Diabetes Canada and others to identify and address the health concerns of those living with diabetes. “If the research doesn’t improve patients’ lives, then we have missed a trick,” says Senior.

In addition to his research and work with patients, he also volunteers with Diabetes Canada. “Dr. Senior has contributed countless hours to our Professional Section Executive and our clinical practice guidelines, ultimately helping to improve the lives of the millions of Canadians living with diabetes,” says Tracy Barnes, director of guidelines and research knowledge translation, Science & Policy, Diabetes Canada. 

He is currently serving on Diabetes Canada's National Board of Directors as board chair

The last word

“Canadian research into islet biology and transplant is pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Researchers from around the world want to come here to learn from us. Canadians should be really proud of that.” — Dr. Peter Senior, endocrinologist

“Dr. Senior is always quick to lend his time and expertise to Diabetes Canada. We are so thankful to him for his thoughtful guidance and leadership.” — Tracy Barnes, director of guidelines and research knowledge translation, Science & Policy, Diabetes Canada

Dakota Dunes Community Development Corporation: A winning partnership

Indigenous peoples living in Canada are among the groups at highest risk for type 2 diabetes and related complications. In Saskatchewan, the Dakota Dunes Community Development Corporation (CDC) is offering valuable support to help prevent the development of diabetes and promote the well-being of First Nations people, who make up almost 20 per cent of the province’s population.

Since 2014, Dakota Dunes CDC has contributed $70,500 to assist Diabetes Canada–North Saskatchewan in delivering programs to reduce the risk of diabetes and its complications among the province’s First Nations people. The corporation, which consists of the seven-member First Nations of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, distributes 25 per cent of the net profits from the Dakota Dunes Casino to charitable organizations and groups around the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. For its efforts, Dakota Dunes CDC was awarded Diabetes Canada’s 2018 National Collaboration Award.

Dakota Dunes CDC Director Shirley Greyeyes knows that Indigenous people in Canada have higher rates of diabetes. She herself was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes almost five years ago. Yet, she rarely comes across people in First Nations communities who talk openly about living with the disease.

“There appears to be a stigma about having type 2 diabetes. People do not want to acknowledge that they have it,” she says.

Recognizing that prevention begins with awareness, Greyeyes is pleased to see Dakota Dunes CDC support Diabetes Canada in offering programs that focus on educating people about healthy lifestyles, nutrition, and exercise. “It is so important to share the information that Diabetes Canada has with our community, so that people become more educated and aware about how they can prevent and manage diabetes,” she says.

The two organizations are also partners in attracting and training Diabetes Ambassadors within First Nations communities. “Having role models who we can relate to—who eat the same types of food and participate in similar activities—sends the message that you can still live a full and healthy life with diabetes,” says Greyeyes.

In 2018, with the financial support of Dakota Dunes CDC, Diabetes Canada hosted a two-day conference that brought together academics, medical professionals, and traditional healers to share ideas on how to combine today’s medical interventions with traditional methods, practices, and lifestyle. Dakota Dunes CDC has also supported other fundraisers such as the Diabetes Walk and the No Sugar Tonight Gala.

“The mutual respect and learning provided through this partnership has been of great value,” says Faith Rowland, community development account manager with Diabetes Canada. “As we grow in understanding of the true potential in reconciliation, the value of our partnership with organizations such as Dakota Dunes CDC only grows.”

The last word

“The partnership with Diabetes Canada has been very positive. They have done what they said they would do, and we are starting to see results. People in our community are beginning to educate themselves and acknowledge the alarming impact of diabetes on our people.” — Shirley Greyeyes, director, Dakota Dunes Community Development Corporation

“The programming that Dakota Dunes CDC supports is very well aligned with Diabetes Canada’s commitment to health promotion, diabetes prevention, reducing complication risk, and reaching diverse communities. We truly appreciate all that Dakota Dunes CDC does to help us support people living with diabetes.” — Faith Rowland, community development account manager, Diabetes Canada

Want to learn more about volunteer opportunities at Diabetes Canada? Visit Volunteer with Us.

(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Winter 2020)

Author: Elizabeth McCammon

Category Tags: Healthy Living, Research, Impact Stories, Camps;

Region: National

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