Robert A. Dacey


Name: Robert A. Dacey
Hometown: Boulder County, Colorado
Diabetes Type: 2
Life's work: Worked in Marketing, Advertising, Public relations; Artist

In 1977, at the age of 44, I developed adult-onset, insulin dependent diabetes. As my 80th birthday approaches in September, I can look back on 36 years of dramatic changes in the diagnosis, treatment, management, and prospects for an honest scientific cure for the condition.

Following single vessel heart bypass surgery in 1976 at the age of 43, my professional career in marketing, advertising, and public relations came to a halt. I was no longer a creative director at a 4A advertising agency in Denver; I had to forge a new life path, and it's been an interesting journey.

A pancreatic pseudocyst was suspected as the trigger for this sudden development of diabetes and the need for daily doses of insulin. The pseudocyst was surgically treated, re-routing the cyst drainage into the colon. But, the needed beta cells were damaged or destroyed. Strict dietary measures were established, and twice-daily insulin injections were prescribed.

In many ways, it was a much simpler time. Laboratory created insulin did not exist, nor did home blood glucose (BG) monitoring devices and systems. HA1c was not a criteria for testing the effectiveness of diabetes management. Monthly visits to a doctor's office, with blood samples drawn for laboratory testing, were the clinical "snapshots," and monitoring method for adjusting insulin dosage. Dietary restrictions included the command to avoid sugar of all kinds at all times. Sugar substitutes for morning coffee were limited. The clinical term "pre-diabetes" was not part of the diagnostic vocabulary. Life could become very boring. The title of "Diabetes Educator" did not exist.

I was determined to not become bored or boring.

Dr. Melvin Stjernholm, my endocrinologist and PCP at the time of my diagnosis, is still my endocrinologist and PCP. We have a solid doctor/patient relationship, but we're also valued and trusted friends. His retirement is approaching, and we'll remain friends even while I seek a new endocrinologist and PCP.

During my professional career, which included using my talents and abilities as an artist and a writer, my client list included a major Denver hospital and medical center. Surgical scrubs were often my uniform for the day as I observed surgeries and catheterization procedures. My job required that I learn how to think like a doctor, and how to interact effectively with medical staffs and administrators, and with patients. The scientist in me was launched on solid medical turf. One of my missions was to create useful patient education programs and materials.


Following my heart surgery in 1976, I became involved with a local chapter of The Mended Hearts, Inc. (MHI). MHI was part of a national, all-volunteer organization in which accredited heart surgery patients acted as in-hospital support visitors for patients who were having heart surgery. The patient advocate in me was launched.

During my 20 years as a Mended Heart, I visited over 5,000 patients, created the official MHI visitor training manual, and served as their national president from 1989 to 1991. Serving the organization, which was affiliated with the American Heart Association, took me to many cities and hospitals across the United States.

I was not bored, nor was life boring. But, insulin-dependent diabetes was still a big part of my daily life. It led to the amputation of my left leg, from the knee down, in 1989. An uncomplicated BK prosthetic leg allows me to walk, but not run, with reasonable confidence. Other health and medical conditions have surfaced since 1976, including hernias, vision issues, circulatory problems, the need for full dentures, heart failure, and the need for a pacemaker and an ICD. Life's challenges grew, but so did my determination to do more than just survive.

My experience in health care and medical treatment, combined with my patient education efforts, led me to serve as a national consumer/patient representative on the AHCPR clinical guideline panel for Congestive Heart Failure during 1991 to 1993. This led to my serving as a national consumer/patient representative on FDA advisory panels from 1998 to 2002. I learned more about the science of health care and medicine, as well as how to influence the patient education process. I became a patient advocate at the highest policy-making level. This was a rewarding experience, though diabetes continued to be in the background and foreground of my daily life.

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Last Modified Date: May 18, 2015

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by Brenda Bell
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