December 2, 2012

GIVING IN ACTION: Making Dreams Come True (Irl)

By UW Foundation

IN IRL’S WORDS: I was six when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Things were very different in those days. We didn’t have the ability to check blood sugars – our tools were so primitive compared to the technology we have today. You just sort of went to bed at night and hoped you woke up in the morning.

The situation was brutal on my parents, especially when my brother was diagnosed in his teens with the same disease – Type 1 diabetes. As a journalist, he devoted part of his career to writing about it. As a scientist, I devoted mine to researching it.

The UW Diabetes Care Center mostly focuses on helping patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. But I’m also interested in studying genetic forms of diabetes that run in families. When my brother was researching his book on diabetes, his three-year-old son was also diagnosed with the disease.

One of the broad research initiatives I’m involved with is a study examining how glucose variability may be a risk factor for diabetes complications. Our ultimate goal is to show how the treatment of glucose variability may reduce those complications for diabetes patients.

I have a passion for better diabetes therapies and so does Alan Bender, a patient of mine who’s been supporting our diabetes research for more than a decade. He and his wife Joyce currently fund a clinical fellowship for our work with minority communities in Seattle. Our research is working to improve the lives of underserved patients in our own backyard.


The Doctor
Irl B. Hirsch, M.D.

UW Medicine Diabetes Treatment and Teaching Endowed Chair
Medical Director of the UW Diabetes Care Center

Areas of Research: Technology in diabetes therapy; insulin effects; blood sugar variability

Big Dream: To tell patients their new treatment tools were started in UW labs, were tested by UW researchers and are used by UW clinicians

Dreams supported by: Alan and Joyce Bender

“There are very few people I respect as much as Dr. Irl Hirsch. Irl is an outstanding doctor, a terrific individual and a wonderful friend. Because Irl has diabetes, I know that anything he asks me to do to help control my diabetes is something he has undertaken in his life. That makes for very persuasive advice. In addition to assisting in underwriting the chair he holds, Joyce and I were inspired by Irl to create the Bender Fellowship to help provide diabetes care for underserved populations. I consider Irl a hero and one of my closest friends.” – Alan Bender

Make a Gift
Support diabetes research at the UW and contribute to the Diabetes Care Fund.



The hope and harm of a life with diabetes

Dr. Luisa Duran knows from personal experience that there are no foregone conclusions when it comes to living with diabetes. People with the disease can face devastating complications, almost no complications or something in between. Through her two-year clinical fellowship with the UW Diabetes Care Center, supported by Alan and Joyce Bender, Luisa turns her research into outreach, helping people lead healthier lives.

Luisa has been interested in diabetes care for as long as she can remember. Her mother developed the disease and suffered health problems related to poor treatment of it. Her grandmother, who helped raise her, had diabetes and lived 96 years without serious complications, giving Luisa hope that people with the disease could overcome health obstacles.

“Those early personal experiences made me quickly appreciate both the hope and harm of a life with diabetes,” Luisa says. She gravitated toward studying the disease in college and in medical school, where she realized that many people living with uncontrolled diabetes were suffering from far worse complications than she’d ever imagined – kidney failure, heart disease, blindness, and amputations. That awareness drove Luisa’s desire to make diabetes the focus of her career.

At the UW, Luisa has found great mentorship through her work with Dr. Irl Hirsch and Dr. Dace Trence. Their enthusiasm and dedication to teaching the latest in diabetes treatments has made her realize the importance of thoughtful and individualized treatments. “I appreciate how they view diabetes as a top priority and embody high standards of care for the entire medical community. Most importantly, I witness people living healthier, longer lives with diabetes, and that gives me confidence that I can do the same for my patients.”

Currently, Luisa is working with patients and care providers at Harborview Medical Center, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Madison Metabolic Clinic, where more than 80 percent of her patients are low-income and at risk for not obtaining necessary or optimal medical care.

“As I gain more experience, I realize my patients’ health is closely connected to the health of their community. Sometimes it takes more to treat the disease than just prescribing a pill,” Luisa says. Collaborating and building the right relationships within underserved communities and the medical profession can improve the health of patients.

With the skills, knowledge, mentorship and network she’ll have developed by the end of her fellowship, Luisa plans to continue to pursue projects that improve healthcare for the community at large.

Irl Webstra Benders


Dr. Luisa Duran (center) with Joyce and Alan Bender. The Benders support Luisa’s fellowship with the UW Diabetes Care Center, allowing her to help more people with diabetes lead healthier lives.

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