How to live 50 years with type 1 diabetes


During his third year clerkship in pediatrics, a young medical student believed he had the classic symptoms of diabetes. A test at the student medical clinic confirmed his suspicions and led to a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

But that medical student wouldn’t let diabetes govern his life. Fifty years later, Steven Gabbe, MD, continues to live life to the fullest without being slowed down by diabetes.

“Diabetes is an important part of my life, but it’s not me, and it’s not my life. I haven’t let control of my blood glucose control me,” says Dr. Gabbe, emeritus CEO and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

Diabetes affects more than 29 million U.S. adults, and 25 percent don’t even know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If not controlled, diabetes can affect the liver, put undue stress on the body and damage nerves and small blood vessels, decreasing circulation.

As part of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Promise Ball on May 12, Dr. Gabbe will be honored for his 50-year milestone of living well with diabetes. Dr. Gabbe credits a healthy lifestyle and some insight he received early on in his diagnosis.

“My physician, Dr. Jorge Mestman, told me to think of my diabetes as a condition – not as a disease,” he shares. He followed up those encouraging words by emphasizing a healthy lifestyle, including:

  • Healthy diet 
  • No smoking
  • Regular exercise
  • Regular medical check-ups

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune process that destroys the beta cells of the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin is needed to process sugar. 
Type 2 diabetes usually affects an older population, especially those who are obese and inactive. Type 2 diabetes causes insulin resistance. It’s usually treated with medication, and sometimes insulin. 

What does the future of diabetes care look like?

Dr. Gabbe says there have been enormous advances in treatment options for those with diabetes including technology-continuous glucose sensors, closed loop pumps and insulin analogues. 
As far as a cure, there are several groups studying implantation of beta cells under the skin. That could happen in the next five years. As far as finding a way to prevent or stop the autoimmune process, that’s going to take some more time.

Dr. Gabbe’s advice for those just diagnosed with diabetes:

“I have always had a desire to pass along my knowledge about diabetes to others. I have spent much of my medical career providing care for pregnant women with diabetes. 

“I’ve learned that living with diabetes requires the support of a team. It begins with your family, and I could not have done it without the support of my wife and our children,” Dr. Gabbe says.

Dr. Gabbe recommends patients ask a lot of questions. “Learn all you can from organizations like the JDRF, ADA, and CODA, and from people with diabetes and their families.

By the numbers: Dr. Gabbe’s 50 years of type 1 diabetes: 

  • 135,000 finger sticks to check glucose level over 37 years since meters were available
  • 51,000 injections over 30 years before starting on a pump 
  • 3,000 insulin pump infusion site insertions over 20 years 
  • 1,000 continuous glucose monitor sensors insertions over 10 years 
  • Thousands of glucose tabs consumed 
  • Thousands of ounces of orange juice consumed
  • 0 trips to the emergency department
  • 0 hospitalizations


Watch 10TV interview with Dr. Gabbe:

Diabetes research at Ohio State

Through innovative research using personalized health care, Ohio State researchers are working toward prevention, and ultimately the cure, of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The goal is to create a world in which diabetes does not exist.

Over the next five years, Ohio State has invested $18 million for recruitment of key scientific teams, enhanced technology and infrastructure, and implementation of an “area of concentration” program. 

Previous research developments Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center (DMRC) include the first-in-human stem cell therapy as a functional cure for type 1 diabetes, search for a vaccine to prevent the inflammatory complications of obesity including type 2 diabetes, stimulating energy consumption in fat cells to shrink them, and identification of early metabolic defects in heart muscle in diabetes and obesity to improve cardiac function.



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