San Fernando Valley News

Climbing for a Cure for Diabetes
Written by Andres Chavez, Sun Staff Writer

A group of experienced climbers will attempt to summit Oregon's Mount Hood on July 15th, as part of a fund raising effort for research to cure diabetes. A member of the team preparing for the ambitious climb is valley resident Nathan Johnson.

san fernando valley newsSponsored by Kiss the Sky to Conquer Diabetes (KTS), an organization that targets mountain climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts for support and awareness about diabetes, Johnson, a KTS supporter has been running throughout the San Fernando Valley in preparation for the Mount Hood climb. He runs down Ventura Boulevard and then hops up into the hills to get his uphill workout. He especially enjoys running in Fryman Canyon.

"Occasionally I'll wear a backpack with some weights in it. It really helps me work my legs and work cardiovascularly. I need to get to that anaerobic threshold to train for these climbs because I'll be climbing in thin air, and I'll need to process oxygen much quicker."
Johnson has a master's degree from the Yale School of Drama and has appeared in such hit shows as "The OC" and "Numb3rs."

The funds, Johnson will raise with other members of the team, will be given to one specific research project: Phase II of the clinical trials being conducted by the Faust man Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. Phase I started in January 2008 and will be completed this year.
Diabetes can be a debilitating disease that can cause people to lose their vision and limbs. It causes the body not to produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy.

Unlike other studies which often deal with newly-diagnosed diabetics, these clinical trials are focused on people living with diabetes with the goal of developing a cure for diabetes, not just managing the condition. Phase 1 cost more than $10 million and was funded by a combination of support from Lee Iacocca and the Iacocca Foundation and monies raised through grass roots initiatives, including those of Kiss the Sky to Conquer Diabetes.
Supporters of the clinical trials hope the same combination will work again. Phase II of the human clinical trials is expected to begin later this year and last three years at a cost of approximately $25 million. At least $8.4 million will be needed for the first year.

Climbing has made Johnson more steadfast and enthusiastic in his dedication for contributing toward the cause.
"It's inspired me to be proactive about raising money (for the diabetes cure.) We send all the money to Massachusetts General Hospital."

In addition to running, Johnson also practices Yoga because it rounds out his training. It helps with upper body strength, balance, flexibility, relieving tension, helps prevent injuries and, in a benefit he doesn't get from running, it strengthens his ankles. "Yoga (has) a lot of balancing poses and you need good strong feet and ankles to do that. It helps a lot. When you're climbing a mountain with weight on your back you need strong balance and strong ankles for that."

An avid backpacker, in 2003 Johnson decided "to up the ante" and try mountain climbing. He won a contest to join a team that was climbing Mount Rainer in
Washington state. It was there that he met Rick Noble, the founder of Kiss the Sky to Conquer Diabetes.
Johnson had a diabetic aunt and he found Noble's story and the goals KTS compelling. "Rick is a really good guy, a fantastic father. Every single trip I've been on with him has been a wonderful experience and to couple it with a fund raiser has been really great," Johnson said.


Rick Noble Founded KTS
Rick Noble founded KTS because his daughter is diabetic. He remembers vividly how his 16-month-old little girl, Kate, was sick on his birthday Jan. 2, 1992. His doctor told him to take her to the hospital, Mount Sinai in NY, and he would meet them there. At first, they thought she had pneumonia, but then the doctors came to talk with Rick and his wife. "They wanted us to see a specialist," Noble said, "That's when your heart sinks and you know that something is very wrong."

Kate was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which means that her body does not produce insulin. Her blood sugar had to be monitored and she was given insulin. As Kate grew older and started school, she was very open with her friends about her disease and what she needed to do to stay healthy.
"She didn't mind showing other friends having her blood checked, or having her shots taken. Her friends became very open to the fact she had diabetes. There were times she needed help, either her blood sugar was too low or she just needed some attention. Her friends would be the first ones to spot it because she had been so open about it," Noble said.

Nathan JohnsonIt is hard to maintain blood sugar in an acceptable range. At one point, Kate went to the hospital when her blood sugar got too low. Noble was afraid she'd had a stroke, but she was ok. Three years ago, Kate switched from daily insulin injections to an insulin pump. It provides insulin on a continual basis which is more precise than shots. Kate is going to graduate from high school and plans to go to college.

Noble had done a lot of climbing and in 2002, hit upon the idea of using it as a fund raising event. The first climb was on Mt. Whitney and it was a very successful event, raising about $60,000. This year KTS climbing team is being guided by Craig Van Hoy, one of America's most accomplished climbers, in its efforts to summit Mount Hood, in Oregon, on July 15th. The team will then tie in with friends, family and Yonder Mountain String Band at the Northwest String Summit over the weekend of July 17th-19th. This effort, "Mountain Music for a Cure," hopes to raise $50,000.
Noble knows that the economy has made it tough for all charities and fund raising efforts. "People are just trying to figure out how to get by. What we've tried to do is expand the numbers of people we're bring in because the average donation is going to be smaller," he said. Noble stated that a donor had come forward who is willing to match the next $12,500. "We are well on our way to reaching that goal. With a couple of weeks left before the climb, I think we'll get there," he added.

The number of diabetics is growing each year. As Noble sees it, "The cost, both the human cost and the cost to the [health] system of managing diabetes is staggering. The only way to get on top [of it] is to find a cure, not to try to manage the disease. Those efforts are under way now and we need to support them and that's what we're trying to do."
Kate has more than coped with her diabetes. As Johnson observed, "What's really amazing about her is that she is really a skilled and avid soccer player. She's really good. I think a key misconception about diabetes is that people cannot be active."

Noble has watched his daughter's diabetes for 17 years. While he won't say that he's desperate, he does feel there's an urgent need to find a cure. "That's why we continue to climb and try and raise awareness about the disease, efforts for a cure, needs for a cure as well as funds for it." He feels that Kate has gained something positive, "She has a natural empathy for people. She has a much greater appreciation and awareness of other people's issues and struggles. She can help by being a friend. I guess there's some good that comes out it but we'd love to find a cure."..

For more information about the climb, or to make a donation, go to www.conquerdiabetes.org.