James Coones – Part 1
Just before his 28th birthday, James Coones was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). His diagnosis was a scary, emotional and uncertain time. Luckily, James was surrounded by his supportive girlfriend Amanda (now his wife), parents, friends and co-workers. We recently caught up with James to ask a few questions about his diagnosis and his job as a firefighter.
Q. What do you remember about your diagnosis?
A. I had been experiencing the classic thirst and urination symptoms, so I went to see my GP to have blood work done. The next morning the blood lab called and confirmed my diagnosis. They instructed that I go immediately to Mount Sinai Hospital, where I spent three nights while they slowly stabilized my levels. During my stay, I met Diabetes Educator, Helen Jones. She was such a positive and encouraging person. Helen really picked me up and said the things I needed to hear. I don’t think she knows the important role she played during those early, uncertain times. I have never forgotten her.
Q. Did you always want to be a firefighter? Were you diagnosed before or after you became a firefighter?
A. I think there is a moment in most young boys’ lives when they flirt, even momentarily, with the idea of being a firefighter. I worked hard and was extremely fortunate to be hired as a firefighter in 1992 at the age of 22. Six years into the greatest career imaginable, I was diagnosed with T1D. I was crushed. I thought it was all over. I remember my initial reaction was that of concern for keeping this job that I loved so much, instead of concern for what the health implications would be for me. Through the support of the department and my fellow firefighters, I was back riding the rigs a little more than three weeks following my diagnosis. After almost 22 years on the job – more than 15 of those with T1D – I currently hold the rank of Acting Captain and am qualified as a Captain, awaiting promotion to that rank, hopefully within the next few years.
Q. What challenges do you face with your diabetes and balancing your blood sugar?
A. Many of my fellow firefighters have no idea that I have T1D. It’s not something I put to the forefront of my life - not because I am ashamed or afraid to talk about it, rather, I choose not to be defined by it. I take T1D very seriously - always diligent about managing it, but I do it in the background while trying to live my life on my own terms. Being a firefighter certainly poses some unique challenges but I have a number of safeguards in place that I have developed over many years. I always have fast-acting glucose candies with me, as well as some type of food or juice on the truck. During meal times at the firehall, I often split my insulin injections into two doses. If I calculate that I need 16 units of Humalog for example, I will often take 8 units prior to eating and then the other 8 units immediately after eating a meal. With the nature of my work, the alarm can sound at any time and I want to be able to cover my insulin dose quickly and easily while on route to an emergency. It’s worked extremely well for me for 15 years without incident.
Q. Do you have any routines or things you do to help lead a healthy lifestyle?
A. I eat responsibly, but I do allow myself treats. I ALWAYS take my insulin when I eat something or before bed – never skipping an injection because I “just don’t feel like it.” I try to exercise as regularly as life will allow me to - for my T1D, my career and for me personally.
Thank you James for sharing your story with us! Stay tuned for Part 2 of James’ story in an upcoming blog.