People Make Us Strong
When people work together, good can outweigh the bad of diabetes.
By Tom Karlya
October 2005 — My column this month is submitted 14 years to the day that my daughter Kaitlyn was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – the day I became a diabetes dad. Much has happened since that day on September 26, 1992. It isn't a celebration but rather more of a milestone that we recognize each year.
As I begin to write, I'm overwhelmed as I reflect on the amount of good that has happened in our lives since that fateful day. As much as there has been good, there certainly have been some rough times that I could have lived without. Aside from all of the dealings of day-to-day diabetes, there were incidents such as the time a swastika appeared on my car in the driveway right after an article appeared about my feelings toward stem cell research. Or how my plans to show one of the final videos of Christopher Reeve, where he himself talks about why embryonic stem cell is important, was not allowed to be played in a large gathering because of the politics of diabetes. There are other episodes also but in retrospect it doesn't matter in the scheme of the big picture. As I said, my emphasis today is on the good.
These isolated incidents could never and will never diminish how this horrendous disease can still lend itself to so much good. And that good is surely defined in the people I have met. The things we have accomplished together have become my very strength in the times diabetes has tried to drive me to my knees. There are people like Steve Leonard, who I was fortunate enough to work with in the creation of a little walkathon that is now called The Walk to Cure Diabetes. How exciting to know that we were part of that creation. Steve remains unsurpassed in his methods of creating the perfect ‘program'. Then there is Charlie Rizzo, who to this day has not faltered one inch in his dedication of years ago – to raise money to find a cure for his daughter – and who taught me to never be dedicated to a place but to the desire to find the answer. I miss our talks. There are also the Singer, White, Abbatiello, and Goodman families, all of whom, through incredible pain and sorrow, showed me the fight isn't over until we say it is. There are people who just ‘get it' like the Carrion, Gillin, Bongiorno, Pulver, Fishlinger, Kleinberg, Luebs, Hatz, Kuck, Fritzhand, Ellis/Fox, Greco, Zuckerman, Reep, Ullman, Guigno, Fisher/Wick, Stern, Goldberg, O'Connor, Orringer, Shewer, Bernstein, Radigan, Hart, and Gans families; Martin Granowitz, Ed Sullivan and his AFL-CIO, Dan Feller, Darren Port and so many more — dedicated because of a loved one, reacting because of a cause.
People in entertainment have been just as proactive. There are folk like Phil Rosenthal, who gave me complete access to his show for five years to create diabetes awareness. The show? Everybody Loves Raymond. There is John Ratzenberger, Tom McGowan, The cast of Tony ‘n Tina's Wedding, Sugar Ray Leonard, Matt Bonifacio, Ray Romano, Marc Levine, Lea Tyrrell, Kevin and John Covais, Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts, The cast of The Producers, Contact, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Hairspray, who constantly asked, "What can I do to help you?"
I have traveled and/or testified in the halls of Congress, New York's Capitol in Albany and even the U.N. for this crucial cause. I have lectured across the country and met the most dedicated caring people such as the Hitchcock, Billetdeaux, Root, Fusco, Lanning, Mattingly, Otten and Kaar families; Linda Kane, Larry Hitchcock and so many more. I met leading diabetes professionals in the world and some I was privileged to call "friend". Dr. Camillo Ricordi, Dr. Collins (The genome Project), Dr. Norma Kenyon, Dr. Jay Skylar, Dr. Kevan Herold, Newt Gingrich, Carolyn Gershenson, Dr. Denise Faustman, Audrey Finkelstein, Dr. Richard Steffan, Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, Bernie Siegel, Rachael Whitehouse, Paul Madden, Rick Miller, Nicole Johnson Baker, Jim Turner, Mother Love, J. Anthony Brown, Lee Mazzilli, John Swantson, Kennedy Rogers, Dr. James Gavin, Kendall Simmons, and Gary Cohen are just the beginning of a long list.
And then there are some I have had to say goodbye to way before the world really knew them like Stacy Joy Goodman, who taught me to do things as kids would want them done and not how I think kids should do them; and Angelo Centano, who taught me that ‘winners never quit and quitters never win,' and Debbie Singer, who in just a short time earned every ounce of my respect for telling my daughter, "Don't do this the way I did." Sleep in peace my friends, the world would have been so much better with you in it but in your absence, those who loved you changed the world in your honor.
Yes, I have been extremely privileged these last 14 years and so honored to work for great causes and with fabulous people; to work with the best of the best like Bob Pearlman, who taught me what fund raising REALLY is about and, now, with Howard Steinberg, who I believe is the absolute best at grabbing a dream from amidst the stars and making it a reality. His dLife will change the world. I love the team I'm on — they are all brilliant and dedicated to the core.
So it has been 14 years since we started this journey and without my family, it would be worth nothing. They do the daily ‘everything,' led by Jill and carried out by Kaitlyn, along with two loving brothers, followed by our brothers, sisters, in-laws and relatives who have donated money and ideas, and always lent a hand. My daughter has become focused, opinionated, strong, sensitive, and loving. I could not have asked for any better qualities in daddy's ‘little girl'.. She will make an excellent doctor. To you all, I'm humbled by your great achievements. I was there then, am here now, and will be back at it tomorrow for the very same reason: I'm a diabetes dad.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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