Cruise Marshal driving force for diabetes research

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This year’s honorary Cruise Marshal at Rock’n August is a true crusader for diabetes research.

Tim Shultz not only led the parade of classic cars on Friday night, but he also helps lead the search of a cure for diabetes.

It’s well known that Rock’n August, the week-long celebration of classic cars, is a major fundraiser for the Alberta Diabetes Foundation. To date, it has raised about $830,000. Shultz understands the direct impact of this fundraiser. He was one of the first recipients of an islet cell transplant, a procedure that likely wouldn’t be possible without the funds raised by Rock’n August.

A lifelong battle with diabetes

At the age of six, Shultz was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. For more than half a century, Shultz’s life consisted of regular doctor visits, thousands of needles and the daily struggle of trying to control his blood sugar.

Coincidentally, Shultz’s older brother was also diagnosed with the disease at a young age. He said they were the perfect lab test because they were two diabetics living in one house. They were often asked to participate in studies.

Eventually, Shultz’s brother died at age 33 from complications of diabetes.

“Research has been a part of my life forever. We used to actually sit down and think about what it would be like to not be a diabetic,” said Shultz, recalling a memory of the forbidden doughnuts his mother would bring home for the rest of the brood.

In 2001, Shultz was diagnosed as a brittle diabetic, meaning he could no longer control the disease, despite following a rigid care plan. That’s when his doctor suggested he could be a prime candidate for a procedure called the Edmonton Protocol. This procedure transplants insulin-producing islet cells into a diabetic’s liver. As a result, a patient can regulate blood-sugar levels without insulin injections.

“I never drop to a critical level and that was the biggest gain for me. My wife and I didn’t have to worry about me not waking up in the morning – dead in bed from insulin shock,” Shultz said.

For years, Shultz needed insulin-injections to regulate his blood sugar. He calculated using more than 36,000 needles in his lifetime. He said he’s poked his finger to test his blood probably over 25,000 times.

After the transplant, Shultz was insulin-independent for 14 years. But over time, as cells in the body regenerate, the impact of the islet transplant faded. After two sets of transplants, Shultz started taking insulin again this year. However, the 12 units he takes each day pale in comparison to the 70 units he took prior to the operation.

Finding the cure

Despite the successes of the Edmonton Protocol, there is still a long way to go before finding a cure. Currently, the transplant harvests islet cells from organ donors and requires the use of anti-rejection medication, which comes with a number of unfavourable side-effects. Side-effects can include an increased risk of infection, nausea, vomiting and more.

Still, Shultz believes a cure will be found during his lifetime.

Dr. James Shapiro, director of the Clinical Islet Transplant Program, said there are various research fundraising organizations that are working hard for diabetes. Programs such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation of Canada are searching for the cure. He said money is greatly needed to fund clinical trials.

“Research funding is the key that unlocks the doors to future diabetes treatments,” Shapiro said.

Currently, there are 15 different clinical trials testing in patients right now. Shapiro said the goal is to find a regenerative treatment for diabetes, in which patients can use their own stem cells to repair the damaged cells in their bodies.

Shapiro said that Shultz was a model patient.

“He actually participated in our cutting-edge trials and is very interested in having a brighter future for diabetes. It’s been a real privilege to work with him.”

A true crusader

Cheryl Mackenzie is a Rock’n August event organizer. She met Shultz many years ago through the Cosmopolitan Club, of which they are both members. She said when people see him leading the parade, they understand the money they’re donating has a real impact.

“His character is unfaltering. He’s a dedicated person,” Mackenzie said. “He understands how lucky he was, so he speaks anywhere and everywhere he can to draw attention to the Alberta Diabetes Institute, the importance of the research and finding a cure as opposed to a treatment.

“That’s really important.”

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Jasmine Roy