Alumni Spotlight:

Meet Gary Michaelis

Living with type 1 diabetes for over 64 years!

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in November 1959 when I was 6 years old and spent 2 weeks in the hospital. At that time there were no classes and my mom was handed the book “Diabetic Manual, for the Patient, Tenth Edition”, by Elliot P. Joslin, M.D, which became our training and educational materials.  My mom read the book and took very good care of me. I still have that book. I managed to get through my school years with no major Diabetes related incidents, with the exception of having to eat my mid-morning snack in the coat closet during one grade school year and I know of only one high school party I wasn’t invited to because they didn’t know what I could eat. Being in Boy Scouts was tough, though, because it’s not easy checking your blood sugar with Clinitest tablets and boiling your glass syringes and needles over the campfire while camping in a tent. I did have an opportunity to attend Gales Creek Camp for several years (does it still only cost $45 a week?)


My major education came while I was attending college at the University of Washington.  I became friends with another person with Diabetes, who told me about the Diabetes Program at Virginia Mason Hospital. It was a 5-day, 8 hour a day education program, covering all aspects of Diabetes care as well as visits with doctors, dieticians and specialists as needed. I came away feeling somewhat emancipated for learning to take care of myself, and found out later that my mom felt left out. One of the things I especially remember about the program was the 3200 calorie PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) diet I was given. In order to get to my calorie intake, I ended up adding vegetable oil to the milk I drank during the day. 


While at college, I also volunteered at the Washington Diabetes Association for 2 years.  It was during that time we learned about the 1975 National Diabetes Commission report to Congress. While I understood that the report ended up providing money for Diabetes research, my takeaway (which I’m not sure was really true) was that I shouldn’t expect to live past the age of 39. Barbara, my wife, remembers me telling her this when we were discussing marriage, but she married me anyway, and we’ve been married for 46 years


Of course, there have been many changes in Diabetes management in the 64 years I have had it, besides Clinitest tablets, glass syringes and PUFA diets. The first disposable syringes with needles that tended to jam after insertion, my first Blood Glucose meter that cost me $400, receiving a low protein diet on one visit to my Endo only to receive a low carb visit on the next visit (this is the same Endo who didn’t like insulin pumps). When I changed doctors 6 years ago, the first question my new doctor asked was “have you ever thought about getting a glucose sensor and insulin pump”.   


My glucose sensor has been life changing. While I have some kidney damage and finger and toe numbness, my worst complication was Hypoglycemia Unawareness, and I was lucky to end up in emergency only 3 times due to low blood sugar. Before I got my Medtronic sensor, my wife was my sensor, alerting me before I was aware of my low blood sugar. 


In 2008, after my son left for college and I didn’t have his Band and Scout activities to keep me busy, I started volunteering at Portland Audubon landing a weekly shift in the Nature Store.  I continue working that weekly shift as well as work on special projects.  I’m also a member of the Volunteer Committee.  Besides volunteering at Portland Audubon and Gales Creek Camp cleanup day, I am active in our church, my wife and I travel internationally on Viking River and Ocean cruises and we have 2 dogs to take care of. 


I retired in 2019 as a Financial Crimes Consultant.  Soon after retiring, I bought a used 4 shaft weaving loom.  I had had an interest in weaving for many years and took some classes in 2015.  About a year after I bought my loom I completed my first project, a set of 2 kitchen towels, just about the time Covid hit.  Covid really gave me an incentive to weave and I took online classes, bought videos, books and materials online, and to date have made 104 kitchen towels and 85 other items, such as scarves, table runners and coasters. I continue online weaving lessons as well as belonging to two weaving guilds where members share information and technique. I like to tell people that weaving is magical. I can take threads and create a piece of cloth, whether it’s a towel or a scarf, to be used and enjoyed by others. These towels are from an 8-shaft loom I was able to borrow from one of my weaving friends and provides a more complex pattern than I can do on my 4-shaft loom.


When I was driving home from Gales Creek Adult Camp in 2019, I decided to get a tattoo. This is not something that I thought I would ever do. I was so inspired at Adult Camp, meeting and talking with other adults who have diabetes, that I wanted a tattoo not for medical ID purposes, but to commemorate living successfully with Diabetes since 1959 and be able to share that with others. I finally did this for my 70th birthday as a present to myself, and it reflects my one provision, which is to NEVER refer to myself as a Diabetic.  My tattoo clearly states “Type 1 Diabetes since 1959”. I am a person with Diabetes and not a Diabetic, which I believe refers to a condition or complication.  Also, at the same camp, I learned about the Joslin Diabetes Center and Eli Lilly medals for living successfully with Diabetes. I submitted paperwork and in November 2019 I received ;50-year achievement medals for both.   


I feel blessed to have lived past the age of 39 and my health has always been excellent, missing only one day of work due to illness in the last 17 years of employment. I am grateful for my mom who took such good care of me, my wife who has been by my side for 46 years, friends, family members and medical staff who have been there to help guide and support me. 

In 2023, GCC sold Gary's towels in the Online Holiday Camp Store, and he donated 100% of the revenue from these weavings to Gales Creek Camp!