Wilson Gaglardi is a little over halfway through spending 100 hours living atop a flag pole in downtown Vancouver in support of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. His mission, along with four other volunteers across Canada, is to raise funds for type one diabetes research and find a cure for the disease.
Gaglardi is only 16 years old and has been living with type one diabetes since he was six.
“It’s a 24-hour job — it’s constant. I don’t really remember living without type one. It’s part of my daily routine now,” he said.
Every day, Gaglardi monitors his blood sugar levels to make sure he can eat sugar when he’s low and administer himself insulin when his levels are high. He uses a Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring system — a small wearable sensor that sends glucose numbers to a smartphone app.
Dexcom CGM systems are covered under B.C. PharmaCare for those who meet eligibility requirements.
He’s been spending the past few days in a small tent perched 40-feet in the air. Inside he’s got everything he needs — a bed, a toilet and Wi-Fi. Gaglardi says he’s had plenty of time to focus on his schoolwork between visits from his friends and family.
“I’m keeping busy,” he said. “Of course, I want to come back to the ground, but I’m more than happy to stay up here for the 100 hours.”
A crew from JDRF Canada is on-site supporting Gaglardi’s effort. Every day his meals are brought to him via scissor lift. He has a view of downtown Vancouver looking up Granville Street. His only issue is the noise from a nearby helicopter landing pad.
When Gaglardi gets back down to the ground, the first thing he’s looking forward to is taking a shower.
“I’m excited to walk around. I want to take a shower. I want to give my family hugs. I want to go to the bathroom in a real toilet.”
He plans to continue his advocacy for JDRF in the future.
The event was inspired by Peter Oliver, the co-founder of Toronto-based restaurants Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants, who sat atop a flagpole 32 years ago to raise $250,000 for type one diabetes research after his daughter was diagnosed with it at the age of six.
JDRF decided to bring back the fundraiser to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by Canadian researchers Frederick Banting and Charles Best. Five volunteers are sitting atop flag poles in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal with a goal of raising $15 million to support JDRF’s campaign to raise $100 million for type one diabetes research.
Living atop the flag pole is a symbol of the endless balancing act of life and death decisions that type one diabetics live with every day.
Sarah Linklater is the chief scientific officer for JDRF Canada. She said that although diabetics have access to insulin to treat their disease, insulin is not a cure.
“Despite very careful type one diabetes management, it’s still a really tough disease to live with… Even people that manage the disease very well still have a long-term risk of many different complications.”
People are typically diagnosed with type one diabetes as children, however, people of any age can be diagnosed with the disease. Signs of possible type one diabetes in children include intense thirst, hunger and frequent urination.
Around 300,000 Canadians live with type one diabetes.
JDRF is funding several research initiatives in 19 countries. The research includes diseases prevention in people who are likely to develop it, stem cell therapies to replace insulin-producing cells and disease-modifying therapies that shut down the auto-immune response in the pancreas to protect beta cells that are attacked by the disease.
Linklater said researchers never give a set date for when type one diabetes will be cured, but she’s hopeful that Canada can make history again at some time in the next 100 years.
“We have a lot of therapies in clinical trials and we’ve had a lot of success in clinical trials that has been unprecedented. The pace and the direction of research is more promising than its ever been. We’d love to believe that in 100 years we will not have people with type one diabetes require insulin anymore.”
Donations to JDRF’s campaign to end type one diabetes can be made online and any questions can be directed to their phoneline at 1-877-287-3533.