It was the dead of the night in Brisbane, Australia. Maree Doolan, then a nurse, was in the middle of a long shift.
“We were messing around and decided to take our blood sugars,” she says. “I was shocked that mine was quite high, in the 280 range. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) shortly after.”
Maree adjusted to everything that comes with T1D when she was diagnosed in her early 20s: The stress of managing her blood sugar while her job required being on her feet all day, caring for others. Extra planning for favorite activities like hiking and running. And never getting a break from a round-the-clock disease.
Fast forward a couple of decades. Maree became a veterinarian, is raising a family in Portland, Oregon, and her teenage daughter Beth isn't feeling quite right.
“I was struggling with anxiety and depression and just feeling a lot of discomfort,” Beth says. “I just assumed it all had to do with mental health.”
But after a few trips to the doctor, they learned Beth also had T1D.
“I was in so much denial, it was just so hard to accept that I had passed this on to her genetically,” Maree says.
Maree was devastated by the fact that her daughter would also have to live the rest of her life with T1D — and was astonished that insulin was still the only treatment.
“I thought surely, there’s something better by now, I’m just out of the loop,” Maree says. “But I realized that while tools to manage type 1 have come a long way, there’s still no treatment that targets the immune response that causes it.”
The silver lining was that Beth’s diagnosis made her eligible for a clinical trial of a therapy that aims to slow the progression of T1D. She could help researchers develop future treatments that target T1D at the source. Research participants would also get hands-on support from BRI’s nurses as they adjust to life with T1D.
Beth soon enrolled in the Intrexon (AG019) New Onset Trial. She and her mom drove from Portland to Seattle several times so BRI’s research team could take blood samples, collect health information and give Beth the therapy.
“The first year with T1D was tough,” Beth says. “I remember moments of low blood sugar and realizing that I’m not invincible, this could kill me. But BRI’s nurses were really incredible. They gave me a lot of support and tips for how to care for and advocate for myself.”
Beth has completed her part in the trial and researchers are planning additional studies of the therapy. She and Maree remain in touch with BRI’s nurses and continue to support each other in managing T1D.
"The way Beth has taken control of T1D has given me permission to be okay with it,” Maree says. “I still wish she didn’t have to deal with it, but I'm amazed at how brave she’s been. She’s really knocked it out of the park.”
Now in her first year at Oregon State University, Beth is studying psychology and sociology.
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have T1D, but it’s made me stronger and more resilient,” Beth says. “It’s taught me how to set boundaries. It’s motivated me to help destigmatize T1D. I'm lucky to have such a wonderful and supportive mom. And I’m so thankful for the people at BRI who have given me so much hope.”
BRI is always looking for new research participants. Learn more and get involved.
This story was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Powering Possibility.
September 28, 2021
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