When Vanessa Oliver was planning her wedding she took great care in choosing the perfect dress. But unlike other brides, her main concern was how to find a wedding dress that could hide her insulin pump and infusion set.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 6, Vanessa knows first-hand how hard it is to live with the disease. “Diabetes is 24/7,” explains Vanessa. “Whether its carefully planning everything you eat in a day or wondering if you are going to wake up in the middle of the night with a low blood sugar, diabetes affects every single moment of your life.”
Growing up, Vanessa remembers all too well how much she longed for a cure. “I was only a year and a half into being diabetic when I wrote to Santa asking for a one week break from diabetes,” Vanessa recalls. Her parents, founders of the Oliver & Bonacini restaurant empire, helped her stay positive. “My parents were great at trying to do anything possible not to let my diabetes prevent me from doing the things I loved. But there’s nothing you can do without considering your diabetes.”
Vanessa’s toughest challenge was yet to come. “The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced was getting through my nine months of pregnancy,” explains the new Mom. “You have to maintain absolutely perfect blood sugar control to help keep the serious complications, such as kidney failure, blindness and neuropathy, associated with Juvenile Diabetes at bay. I was told that the greatest accelerator of diabetic complications is pregnancy.”
Vanessa appreciates the care she receives at Toronto General Hospital. “Dr. Bruce Perkins is a great doctor and a great person,” says Vanessa. “He is a type 1 diabetic himself so he knows what it’s like to be in my shoes and live with diabetes every day.”
Inspired by the world-leading research taking place at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Vanessa volunteers as a McEwen Centre ambassador. “Their stem cell research is very promising,” says Vanessa. “Dr. Gordon Keller and Dr. Cristina Nostro are working on producing pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin for transplantation therefore eliminating the need for insulin injections. That sounds like the beginning of a cure to me!”
“Finding a cure for diabetes is in the right hands,” confirms Vanessa. “These scientists are passionate and motivated. They’ve dedicated their lives to this.”