Last August, doctors at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center worked with Kate Linebaugh, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, on telling an important health story that needed to be told to a larger audience. Titled “Wrong Call: The Trouble Diagnosing Diabetes”, Kate wrote about the growing problem of adults who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when they actually have type 1 diabetes. While both types of diabetes make it difficult for people to control their blood sugar, the treatments for type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different, and a wrong diagnosis can be quite dangerous.
The story received a lot of attention. According to Kate, she is still receiving e-mail messages from grateful readers—the last one, last month, from the brother of a 57-year-old man who was finally given the correct diagnosis: type 1 diabetes. It’s always gratifying to a journalist when a story has impact. Berrie Center Co-Director, Robin Goland, MD, felt the same way. “The more people who read this story,” she said, “the fewer people will be misdiagnosed.”
But perhaps the person happiest with the positive feedback is Alissa D. Kaplan Michaels, a 44-year-old public relations consultant in New York City where she lives with her husband and their 7-year-old son. Now seen at the Berrie Center for type 1 diabetes, Alissa agreed to talk to the WSJ and go public with her private story. “I know how difficult it is for people to come forward,” said Alissa. “But I wished I had read a piece like this, rather than suffer the way I did. I told myself, ‘if my story could help one person, or educate one doctor, I’d be pleased.’ Turns out it’s helped a lot more!”
Because she is practically a poster child for misdiagnosing diabetes, Alissa’s story resonated with a lot of people. In 2008, she complained to her doctor of blurry vision and was eventually given the wrong diagnosis of T2D after a blood test showed her sugar levels were high. She began a regimen of drugs, changed her diet and began exercising more often, but her blood sugars kept rising. She stopped eating carbohydrates (and changed doctors three times) but was still quite sick. On a visit to her fourth doctor, a physician covering for him “asked some smart questions,” Alissa recalled—and after three-and-half years, she was correctly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
At the time, said Alissa, “I was just happy to be taken seriously and to know that there was treatment.” Today she manages her type 1 diabetes with diet, exercise and insulin and mostly feels good. “Type 1 diabetes is a time consuming diagnosis," she said. "But I'm just happy it's the correct diagnosis—and I have a great team helping me at the Berrie Center.” Going public with a story that helped others, she said, “was cathartic.”
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