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A Story of Diabetes and Determination

Aug 26, 2009

A book about Diabetes and Determination

In a new book by History professor Caroline Cox an inspiring personal drama unfolds against the historical account of a medical breakthrough in the early twentieth century. Her biography of Elizabeth Evans Hughes, The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes, and the Discovery of Insulin, published by Kaplan Inc., will be in bookstores this November.

History professor Caroline Cox discusses her new book "The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl's Struggle with Diabetes and the Discovery of Insulin."

Having grown up with a father and friends who lived with type 1 diabetes, Dr. Cox was interested in understanding the history of the treatment of this chronic disease. She learned of a young girl named Elizabeth Hughes who had been diagnosed with diabetes at age 11 in 1919. Three years later Elizabeth weighed only 45 pounds and lay near death. But she clung to life and became one of the first recipients of insulin when clinical trials began in 1922. Had she not gained access to the clinical trial, she would have soon died. In the first days after receiving insulin, she was strong enough to go out to the theater. Within two months, her body weight had doubled. In four, she was back at school playing sports. The day she gave herself her own insulin injection for the first time, she playfully called it “the shot heard round the world—my world that is.”

Dr. Cox studied Elizabeth’s letters from this period at the library of the University of Toronto and realized that the story of the girl’s diagnosis, her treatment, and her life after insulin was not only compelling but inspirational. With support from the Pacific Fund, she was able to continue research and complete the book.

Other books written about the history of diabetes have focused on the medical research. The Fight to Survive tells the story through the eyes of a young teenager and one who suffered from the illness, with the experiments that led to insulin’s discovery as a back drop.

“It is Elizabeth, and not insulin, that is protagonist of this work,” said Dr. Cox. “She delights us as she sustains herself through her ordeal by a love of reading, a joy in her family and her friends, and a delight in the natural world. She engages us with her zest for life in the midst of crisis. She captivates and inspires us with her hope and faith in the future.”

Dr. Cox sought input from Professor Lisa Wrischnik (Biology) to accurately portray the science portions of the story in lay language. Three student research assistants also helped Dr. Cox: Heather Mellon (History ‘06), Jeannette Sandoval (History ‘08) and Franklin Griffen (Social Science ‘08). Their involvement gave them valuable training before going on to graduate school.

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