One student's race to cure diabetes
BY HOPE RACINE
Statistically speaking, there should be approximately 17 students on the University of Mary Washington campus who suffer from Type 1 diabetes. Dan Browne has only met two.
Browne, a senior biology major, is the founder of UMW’s chapter of the College Diabetes Network (CDN), a national nonprofit organization that seeks to unite diabetics on college campuses and offer informational and emotional support to those who suffer from the disease, as well as friends and family members of diabetics.
Two students at the University of Massachusetts started CDN, which is currently active on over 70 campuses across the nation.
“It had been on the edge of my awareness for awhile, but I didn’t think it would really take off on campus,” Browne said.
Browne is a Type 1 diabetic. Diagnosed when he was 10 years old, Browne has dedicated a large amount of his time to diabetes research and outreach.
“There are a lot of misconceptions that revolve around diabetes,” Browne said. “People don’t necessarily understand the differences between the different types of diabetes and that everyone manages their disease differently.”
Diabetes can take two forms: Type 1, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, and Type 2. Of all diabetics, Type 1 makes up 10 percent of the diabetic population and is an autoimmune disease that is very common in younger children. Type 2 diabetes often emerges later in life and can be caused as a result of genetics and lifestyle choices.
Browne, who is 6 foot 3 and looks as though he has approximately zero percent body fat, is often asked how he can have diabetes without being obese.
“When you see diabetes portrayed on the news or television shows you kind of get the impression that diabetes is what happens when you eat too much cake,” Browne said. “But there’s a lot more that goes into it. A lot of the reason I wanted to start this club was to bring people together, but also to spread awareness,” said Browne.
One of the major upcoming events for CDN this semester is the Spring 5k Bunny Hop Fun Run, an event that is co-sponsored by the newly restarted UMW Running Club.
“I joined the Running Club because I wanted to get into running a bit more. It’s a great way to manage your blood sugar levels, and I ended up really getting invested in the club,” Browne said.
The Spring 5k is open to participants of any running level and will help raise awareness for diabetes and raise funds for the group. The race is being held on Sunday, March 30 and will have Easter eggs hidden along the route that contains prizes and information about diabetes. Prizes will also be given to the top runners and egg finders.
According to Browne, one of the goals for the race is to let students know that CDN is present on campus. Currently, the group only consists of Browne and junior art history major Becca Arm.
“Being a diabetic, especially a Type 1 diabetic, can be very isolating,” said Browne. “When you get diagnosed as a kid, you are told that something is fundamentally wrong with your body, you will probably be the only person you know who suffers from this and from here on out, life will be very difficult for you.”
Every diabetic manages their disease differently, and often when kids with diabetes start college it is the first time that they have to manage the disease without their parents’ help.
“You have to deal with schedules, new food, partying and spontaneity, and the last thing you want to think about is your diabetes. But it should be the first think you think about,” Brown said.
One of the goals of CDN is to create a group where diabetics can learn from other’s experiences and receive advice on how to handle drinking with diabetes, partying or handling other common college experiences.
“It helps to have people surrounding you who understand what you go through and can provide support,” Browne said.
During his sophomore year at UMW, Browne’s control of his diabetes was at an all time low. In addition to being disenchanted with his biology major, Browne was looking for a direction. That’s when it occurred to him that he could dedicate his life to diabetes research and outreach.
“I like biology, and I’m good at it, and I know a lot about diabetes just from, you know, being me,” Browne said.
After spending the summer in San Diego working on a diabetes related internship, Browne returned to UMW determined in his goal to spread awareness and create connections.
“My goal in life is to cure diabetes. And to do that, I want to make contact with people who have it and learn about experiences outside of myself,” Browne said. “I learn from everybody, and it will aid my research.”
Browne takes this mission one step at a time. “Every time I have a diabetes moment in public, I try to make it a bit of a teaching moment,” Browne said. “I guess you could say I’m a bit of a diabetes evangelist.”