A longtime friend to men, women and children suffering from debilitating diseases is leaving. A true champion for medical research will no longer be at the helm. All of us who face a lifetime with an incurable disease have lost a true crusader in the fight for finding a cure. Newt Gingrich is stepping down.
Gingrich was criticized and applauded for a great deal during his reign, but a little talked-about fact is that he led the charge in securing funding for medical research, research that could find cures for diseases like cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's and diabetes.
While he championed research into all types of diseases, he was a true hero for diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that affects me and 16-million other Americans. I bet you think I can control my diabetes with some diet and exercise and by avoiding sugary foods. Well, you would be wrong. I have a type of diabetes that far too few people are aware of, a type that requires me to take multiple shots of insulin daily just to stay alive. I have juvenile, or Type 1, diabetes. Even though it's called juvenile, don't be confused: It's a disease you never outgrow. I've had it for more than 30 years.
Gingrich's efforts to make the prevention and cure of diabetes and its complications a national priority should be applauded. While many have blamed him for the government shutdown in 1995, few people know that he, along with Rep. John E. Porter, R-Ill., and former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., helped ensure that the National Institutes of Health had funding to keep it running. In 1997, the speaker led the way for a diabetes initiative of more than $2-billion that included $150-million in new funds for Type 1 diabetes research, $150-million for diabetes research in Native Americans and funds for Medicare to cover items critical to people with diabetes such as blood glucose testing strips and monitors, as well as self-management education. And in 1998, the speaker, along with the Clinton administration and key members of Congress, led the way to increasing the medical research budget for the NIH by $2-billion, the largest increase in NIH history. Another little-known fact is that $30-million of this new budget will be devoted to research on auto-immune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Diabetes kills one American every three minutes. It affects children and adults, both genders, every race and ethnic group and leaves a vicious imprint on those who suffer from it and on those who love them.
Unfortunately, according to a nationwide survey by Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International, 75 percent of Americans do not know how deadly the disease is, and 38 percent believe that either insulin cures diabetes or makes it harmless or they do not know what effect it has. Insulin is not a cure. Without daily injections of insulin, people like me wouldn't be alive. Having diabetes means that my life expectancy is shortened, and I am at risk for going blind, losing a limb, suffering from kidney failure or having a heart attack or stroke.
Throughout his tenure as speaker, Gingrich ignited the passion and fury of many. Although I may seem like an unlikely admirer, he deserves the praise and admiration of all of us whose lives are touched by debilitating diseases. The speaker carried the torch for tens of millions of Americans afflicted with incurable diseases. We have lost a true crusader. He will be missed.
Mary Tyler Moore is international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
Special to the Los Angeles Times