By: Barbara Ross
On July 2, 2010, when Lt. Jose Lopez took the podium at the recent Children With Diabetes Friends for Life Annual International Conference in Orlando to speak to the parents of children with diabetes, his goal was to use his own story to reassure them about their children’s future. “What I most wanted to convey to them was that people with diabetes, especially children, can do normal stuff and live their dreams. I am not a super hero – and I did it.”
When Jose Lopez was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in October of 1983, he was afraid that it meant the end of his lifelong dream to become a police officer. He was only 22 years old and still in his first year – a critical probation year – with the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Jose had experienced major changes to his health before he went to see his general practitioner. He had noticed that the incisions from minor skin surgery were not healing and that he had lost weight without trying. When tests results came back, the diagnosis was type 1 diabetes. No one in his family had diabetes, and the only thing he really knew about it was that it was described as “sugar in the blood.”
At that time, jobs like that of police officer, firefighter, and even commercial driver were considered off limits to people with diabetes. Determined to prove that he could serve successfully – and concerned that he would be fired because of his diabetes – Jose told no one on the force about his condition for a few years.
He worked extremely hard to keep healthy and tried to be a standout officer on the force. During that first year, his diabetes was managed by trial and error. While his general practitioner constantly warned him of the dire consequences that would result if he didn’t take his insulin – loss of eyesight, kidney failure, possible limb amputation, and other complications – Jose received very limited information about how to really manage his blood sugar levels.
He began researching information about his disease in an effort to learn more about effective diabetes management. This research led him to the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, a national organization devoted to finding a cure for diabetes. Following an initial appointment with one of the endocrinologists, adjustments were made to the types of insulin Jose was using and soon he found it easier to manage his condition.
When Jose finally told his colleagues on the force about his diabetes, he found them to be tremendously supportive. For someone who once felt that he had to hide his condition, Jose now believes it is important to let people know you have diabetes. “People with diabetes should always carry an ID card stating that they have diabetes,” he said. “If you drive, keep the card with your license. He added, “I also wear a Medic Alert pendant on my neck.”
During his years in the Miami-Dade Police Department, Jose’s diabetes did not hold him back from advancement. From his start as a uniformed officer, Jose became a member of the S.W.A.T. Team, then a Detective in the Vice and Narcotics squad, battling illegal drugs. He was promoted to sergeant and later became a lieutenant in the homicide bureau.
Twenty-seven years after his diagnosis, Jose Lopez is a lieutenant in the Port of Miami, which is recognized as one of Florida’s leading ports in safety and security. He works with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue Department, and others to keep the port secure. As a respite from his intense and important work at the port, Jose enjoys playing golf and spending time with his family. Truly, Lt. Jose Lopez is an example of an individual who has not allowed himself to be limited by a diagnosis of diabetes.
His long-standing success is a result of attempting to manage his diabetes. He understands the importance of eating right, exercising, and checking blood glucose levels frequently throughout the day. He tests about five to seven times daily, depending on his activity level. “Just in case, I always keep glucose tablets in my pocket, in my car, and at my desk,” he said. “I also keep glucose shots (Dex 4-Liquid Blast) in my desk.” For his insulin injections, Lt. Lopez uses an insulin pen, but is considering an insulin pump.
Lt. Lopez’s positive attitude and active approach to diabetes management have proven inspiring to other people. A co-worker who has a child with diabetes asked Lt. Lopez to make a presentation at the 2010 Children With Diabetes Friends for Life Annual International Conference. This event is an international convention for children with type 1 diabetes and their families, where current research from world-renowned clinicians, researchers, and physicians is shared, and educational sessions present up-to-date information and strategies for diabetes management. Lt. Lopez spoke at one of the “parent discussion groups,” which seek ways to keep children with type 1 diabetes motivated to maintain good health.
Lt. Lopez is the proud father of four children , twin 21-year-old girls, a 19-year-old gir, and a d 2-year-old boy. .
Can People With Diabetes Be First Responders?
In communities across the country, individuals with diabetes, like Lt. Jose Lopez, are successfully serving their fellow citizens as first responders. Due to advances in the treatment of diabetes (and a number of legal challenges), employment as a police officer, fire fighter, FBI agent, or other first responder is no longer off limits to people with the condition.
The Americans With Disabilities Act made it illegal to automatically deny a person employment solely on the basis of a medical diagnosis such as diabetes. Under this law, an assessment of the individual’s qualifications and ability to perform the job must form the basis for an employment decision.
To help law enforcement agencies make fair decisions about the fitness of candidates with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association worked with the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) to create a National Consensus Guideline for the Medical Evaluation of Law Enforcement Officers for individuals with diabetes who wish to work as law enforcement officers (LEOs).
The Consensus Guideline states that “current published data suggest that persons with diabetes who can safely and effectively function as LEOs can be readily identified through careful individualized assessment. Thus blanket bans of all people with diabetes, in addition to being illegal, are not consistent with current medical knowledge.” The Guideline can be found at http://www.acoem.org/legohome.aspx.