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Chip Sullivan is a golf pro. This June he played his best game ever, beating the top club professionals in the country and qualifying for the fourth time to play against the likes of Tiger Woods in the PGA championship tour.
The victory was particularly sweet because it had so recently seemed out of reach: Around Christmas of last year, Chip was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and hemochromatosis, a potentially deadly disease of iron overload.
Chip's sister had died of liver failure caused by hemochromatosis in 2004, at the age of 44. She'd been diagnosed with both type 2 diabetes and hemochromatosis only about a year before her death, and by that time years of organ damage had already been done.
In spite of the fact that hemochromatosis is an inherited disease that's especially common in the Irish, Chip didn't suspect that he was at risk. He was slender and fit, and he believed himself to be healthy.
He'd been feeling very tired for a long time, though, and in December 2006 he decided to ask his doctor what was going on. A blood test was done, and his blood glucose level came back at 368 mg/dl. When he mentioned the family history of hemochromatosis, a ferritin test was also carried out, and that was sky high as well.
In retrospect, Chip believes that he probably had both type 2 diabetes and hemochromatosis for years. But once he finally had his diagnoses pinned down, he went all out to fix them.
For three months, he underwent two phlebotomies (blood-lettings) a week to empty out iron from his system. A pint of blood was removed each time, until his ferritin level dropped from 1129 to 7.4 ng.ml. Now he's on a maintenance schedule, having a phlebotomy every month or so to keep his iron levels within a normal range.
To combat his diabetes, Chip was put on insulin. First he tried Exubera, but inhaling insulin didn't work for him because he kept going low. Next he was put on Lantus and Novolog, but he wasn't too happy with that either, and the carb counting threw him for a loop.
When he found out that many people with type 2 take pills instead of insulin, he changed doctors. Now he manages very well on one morning shot of Lantus, 1500 mg of Janumet, and a diet that excludes soft drinks, pasta, or potatoes.
After Chip was first diagnosed, he called his older sister in Alaska and told her to go get tested. She turned out to have borderline hemochromatosis and type 2 diabetes as well, so now she's getting phlebotomies too.
Chip believes that his grandparents may have died of undiagnosed hemochromatosis, and he worries about the future of his three children. But their pediatrician advises against having them genetically tested, for fear that insurance companies will refuse to insure them when they reach adulthood. The disease generally doesn't surface until middle age, so Chip is still debating whether or not to have them tested.
Chip is confident that he has his diseases well under control now. He fully intends to see his children grow up, and he sees the future as very bright. "I don't feel like 42 is that old, " he says. "I have my best years of golf ahead of me."
For more information about hemochromatosis, see "Hemochromatosis and Bronze Diabetes: Caused By Iron Overload" and "Too Much Iron Can Cause Diabetes".
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.