Mary Tyler Moore Proved Living Well With Type 1 Diabetes Is Possible

The famed actress died this week at age 80.

Moore became active in diabetes advocacy after she was diagnosed with the lifelong disease herself. In 1997, she told the Archive of American Television that her diabetes was discovered when she was in the hospital after suffering a miscarriage.

“While normal blood sugar levels are to be somewhere between 70 and 110, mine was 750,” she said. “They were amazed I was still walking around. And to this day they don’t know which came first, the miscarriage or the diabetes—which caused the other’s onset.”

Moore later told MedlinePlus that she was “incredulous” when she first received her diagnosis. “I was, after all, a very healthy and active adult, and I didn’t ever expect something like that to happen to me,” she said in 2006.

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It’s a common misconception that people with diabetes are always overweight or sedentary, says Deena Adimoolam, MD, assistant professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. While lifestyle factors often contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, they have nothing to do with the onset of type 1.

“We pay close attention to how much they should be giving themselves, depending on what foods they’re eating, when they’re exercising, and when they’re under stress, for example,” she says. “We teach them to use insulin to balance different factors in their life, so they can live as normal a life as possible.”

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Still, she admitted that living with diabetes is not always easy. “The millions who suffer from diabetes still confront he specter of devastating complications, despite our best efforts,” she told the magazine. “Insulin is not a cure—it is life support, enabling us to live our lives until a cure is found.”

Dr. Adimoolam says that it is possible for these conditions to develop even if diabetes is carefully managed. Diabetes also becomes trickier to manage as patients reach old age, she says, since they may be dealing with other medical conditions that can affect blood sugar levels or other aspects of insulin control.

But, she says, the earlier diabetes is diagnosed—and the more closely it’s monitored—the lower a person’s risks for complications throughout their life.

In 2009, Moore told People that she thought she’d have to “recline on a chaise the rest of my life” after her diabetes diagnosis. She proved herself wrong, however, adding that “there have been challenges, but I’ve triumphed.” And through the years, she showed that it’s possible for someone with diabetes to live a long and healthy life.

“Patients are living longer and doing much better, and we’re not seeing complications nearly as frequently as we were, let’s say, 50 years ago,” says Dr. Adimoolam. “We are lucky to have new technologies and advances in medicine that have improved the lives of people with type 1 diabetes significantly.”

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