For people with type 1 diabetes, Mary Tyler Moore, who died Wednesday at age 80, was not just an actress. She was a fellow traveler who helped bring a widely misunderstood disease out of the shadows.
Moore was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in her 30s, and kept it a secret for much of her career. But eventually she became an outspoken advocate. As the longtime International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, now known as JDRF, Moore testified before congressional committees and made many public service announcements and appearances.
“She was a role model and a source of inspiration,” who raised awareness and research money during an era when treatment emerged from “the dark ages” and edged toward a cure, said JDRF CEO Derek Rapp.
In type 1 diabetes, the body cannot make insulin, a hormone the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream to the rest of the body. Because it is often diagnosed in children or young adults, it was formerly known as juvenile diabetes. It is much less common than type 2 diabetes, which typically develops later in life.
In an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in 2009, Moore recounted her diagnosis 40 years earlier, after a miscarriage.
“A blood test revealed that my blood sugar level was 750. Normal is between 70 and 110. And they did not know how I was still alive and walking around. But within 48 hours, I was brought back to normal, and then began the hard part, living with the disease.”
She explained why she hesitated to become an advocate when the JDRF first approached her, in 1984: “At the time, I hadn’t taken ownership of my diabetes. I wasn’t sure I wanted the world to know that behind the smile that could turn it on was an independent woman who was dependent on multiple shots of insulin a day, just to stay alive.”
But she said she was glad she got over that reluctance.
In a 2009 book Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes, Moore said diabetes had permanently affected her vision, balance and stamina, and she shared her struggles to give up alcohol and smoking, according to a Publishers’ Weekly review.
The JDRF now includes the book in a care package for newly diagnosed adults.
Her personal struggles and the way she overcame them “were very powerful,” for others, Rapp said. Moore’s husband S. Robert Levine, a physician, remains involved in the organization.
Moore also was an animal rights advocate. The Humane Society tweeted: “We are so saddened by the passing of our friend.”