What went through your mind when you heard about the sudden death of Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson a few days ago? I can't imagine a Type 1 diabetic out there who isn't shuddering in their shoes. She was only 30 years old, for goodness' sake, and despite the drugs and alcohol, she'd likely be alive today if her diabetes hadn't played some role.
There's been a ton of speculation since Casey, a prominent socialite and friend of Paris Hilton's, was found dead in her Los Angeles home of "unknown causes." The Los Angeles coroner has confirmed that there were no signs of foul play, and it seems pretty clear that the drugs and alcohol, mixed with poorly controlled diabetes, created a killer "toxic cocktail" in this case.
To me, this worst-case scenario brings out the "fear of fears" in all of us Type 1 diabetics: that we may just wind up dead in bed someday...
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Many of us have had our partying years in college, nights where we let the alcohol take precedence, experimented with questionable substances, didn't check our sugars, and generally weren't "good diabetics." I shudder to think how it could have ended, on these occasions.
With Casey Johnson, the calamity goes much deeper. Estranged from her family, she "spent the last months of her life in a suicidal drug haze, and had been living in squalor up until her death, since her family had cut her off," according to Cityfile New York.
One might argue that the diabetes was irrelevant, that she was just another over-privileged kid turned miserable, like so many before her. But I'm one of those people who likes to believe that growing up with Type 1 diabetes changes you, makes you stronger, gives you a deeper sense of the value of life... And this just shatters all of those preconceptions.
Or, she just got unlucky, that she had a disease that didn't allow her to get through the "rough years"...
Either way, it's a tragedy — especially stinging for a family already so racked by tragedy and so openly devoted to the cause. The Johnsons have donated millions to research and health causes over the years, and Casey's father, namesake of the Robert Wood Johnson who founded JNJ, currently serves as chairman of JDRF. I also found out this week that Casey herself wrote a book together with her parents in 1994, called "Managing Your Child's Diabetes."
It just goes to show you that having everything is far from everything.
Here was a person who had everything that money could buy, and then some, and a powerful family dedicated to finding a cure for her illness. But none of that was enough, in the end.
We can only hope that the international media blitz surrounding this death raises the profile of diabetes from a "low-priority condition" to a force to be reckoned with.