Community News
June 13, 2018 By Peggy Archer
Diagnosing the legacy of type 2 diabetes

As a school teacher in Manitoba for 40 years, the mother of a son with type 2 diabetes and a grandmother of a grandson with type 1 diabetes, Larry Krotz’s Diagnosing the Legacy: The Discovery, Research and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes in Indigenous Youth, was of particular interest. The book, which explores the history and long-term effects of diabetes in remote Canadian communities, reminded me of the diagnosis of a grade six student about 20 years ago while I was working in an elementary school with a large Indigenous population in Dauphin, Man. Back then, it was a rare occurrence.

However, now as a substitute teacher in the province, I hear about younger and younger Indigenous students, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The United Nations-sponsored World Health Organization (WHO) has declared type 2 diabetes a rapidly growing epidemic. Diagnosing the Legacy addresses this complex issue through interviews with members of the reserves of Island Lake (St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill, Red Sucker Lake) in Northern Manitoba and Sandy Lake in Northern Ontario. Krotz also interviews local health-care providers, including retired pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Heather Dean; researcher, Jonathan McGavock; Dr. Ron Mundy; and professor and physician, Dr. Michael Moffatt. Their stories personalize the struggles of those living with the disease and the ways in which communities are working together to address this epidemic.

One of these stories focuses on Mary Jane Wood, who was the subject of a journal article by the three doctors. Wood was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 11. Three of her five children were also diagnosed with the disease. Two of those children were pregnant, which begged the question about whether these children would also be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In order to get appropriate care for her kidney dialysis, Wood had to travel the long distances from her remote community to Winnipeg three times a week, and also make trips for infections. She described her life as “turbulent,” admitting that she had not taken care of her health as best she could. She also shared that her grandparents had had diabetes but had taken the advice of their dietitians and made the necessary dietary adjustments because of her grandmother’s kidney failure. Wood’s story and others in the book underscore the generational effects of type 2 diabetes, as well as the barriers to receiving care in our current health system.

What does this mean for the future? Dean, McGavock, Mundy and Moffatt provide some insight into the challenges for Indigenous peoples and all Canadians, as well as progress in the areas of research and treatment. The desire of Indigenous communities to take the lead in looking for solutions to their own health-care needs is being met with support from their health-care partners. Many partnerships have been formed and many other positive steps taken that acknowledge the impact of the historical legacy, and the importance of ceremonies and language of Canada’s Indigenous population. This also includes supporting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to provide a pathway to healing and ensure positive changes continue to be made.

To learn more about the book, listen to an interview with Larry Krotz on Diabetes 360, the Diabetes Canada podcast.

Peggy Archer lives with her family in Dauphin, Man. She has volunteered with Diabetes Canada for more than 10 years, and was awarded a National Volunteer of the Year award in 2017.

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