Health: Diabetes Expo 2007: Diabetes: Living Daily With Diabetes

Learn how to fight this silent killer at the Philadelphia Diabetes Expo


Eighteen years ago, Douglas Cairns was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that more than one million Americans live with each day. A former Royal Air Force pilot in the UK, Cairns came down with the flu on Christmas Day of 1988. As with all cases of type 1 diabetes, his body stopped producing insulin, the hormone that turns sugar and starches into energy. Leading up to diagnosis, he exhibited the classic symptoms of type 1: extreme hunger, thirst and weight loss. "I lost 26 pounds," says Cairns, before doctors told him the news. Cairns was devastated. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fly again," recalls the pilot.

Because the pancreas no longer produces insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, type 1 diabetes requires insulin injections and constant attention to diet. Left unchecked, high blood sugar can cause horrific complications, including heart disease, blindness and kidney disease. If blood sugar levels drop too low, it is also dangerous, as the brain runs out of energy to function. This can lead to coma and even death.

Although the Royal Air Force didn’t allow Cairns back in the sky, he refused to allow the disease to control his life. With his dreams and ambitions in hand, he received his US flying license in 2000. Today, Cairns uses his love of flight to spread the message that diabetes should not end your dreams. He started the organization Diabetes World Flight with the intent to raise awareness and funds for diabetes research by flying around the world. In 2003, Cairns accomplished this feat. “People should know that diabetes should not limit the scope of your ambitions,” says Cairns.

This weekend, Cairns will speak at the Pennsylvania Convention Center as part of the Philadelphia Diabetes Expo. Hosted by the America Diabetes Association (ADA), the expo is designed to teach others about a disease that, when including the other forms of diabetes such as type 2, affects 20.8 million Americans. The event will include activities such as salsa and hip-hop dancing, youth yoga, fencing, lacrosse and cooking classes. “You can control your diabetes, you can live a normal life and you can continue to follow your ambitions,” says Cairns.

Philadelphia Diabetes Expo, November 17th, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St, 610-828-5003, diabetes.org