By: Radha McLean
Wanna be an athlete? Wanna be a rock star? Lauran Gangl has done a little bit of both—without letting her type 1 diabetes get in the way.
Lauran, a 28-year-old native of Scotland who now resides in southern California, wears many different hats—as the founder of both an ocean water-safety school and an indie rock/pop band; as a singer; and, perhaps most influentially, as an activist within her local diabetes community.
Working as an Instructor and Lifeguard
Lauran, who has a master’s degree in health education and is a certified lifeguard, SCUBA diver and high school teacher and counselor, swims one mile a day. It’s not a difficult goal, considering that one of her jobs keeps her close to the sea. She’s the founder of an ocean water-safety sports school in Palos Verdes. (The school also has locations in Florida, Puerto Rico and Scotland.) There, she and her staff teach classes in ocean watersafety skills for both children and adults.
But Lauran has had a battle to fight during her career as a teacher of water activities. Los Angeles County attempted to revoke Lauran’s lifeguard license because she has diabetes. Their argument: a bout of low blood glucose could occur while she is attempting a rescue.
"I was almost treated like a criminal," says Lauran. "People perceive having diabetes as a risk."
Lauran had to hire an attorney to help her negotiate with the city to grant her a restricted license, which allows her to spend 13 days a year as an instructor—on the condition that she must have a backup lifeguard when she is on duty.
A Childhood in the Water and on the Ice
Limiting her time in the water is an unfamiliar state for Lauran, who grew up with a swim waiting right outside her doorstep. The daughter of a nuclear engineer, she spent some of her childhood living on a boat in the British Virgin Islands.
Growing up, Lauran also trained rigorously as an ice skater, making it to the big leagues—the Olympics—at the age of 14, where she placed 14th.
A Singing Sensation, Too
Moving on to another talent, Lauran specialized in musical theater in college. This pursuit yielded a longer-lasting career than ice skating. Lauran now tours the world with her own band, The GangBangs, which has performed backup for the likes of George Michael and Dweezil Zappa, appeared on MTV and released several albums. On her own, Lauran collaborates with high-profile artists such as Cher and Lou Reed and has performed in several operas. She compares her teamwork mentality to that of Tina Turner and her voice to that of Kate Bush or Cyndi Lauper.
Taking Care of Her Complications
Not all is well in Lauran’s life, however. Diagnosed with diabetes at age 4, she recently came down with symptoms signaling diabetes complications: high levels of protein in her urine (a sign of developing kidney damage) and a hemorrhage in her eye (a sign of developing retinopathy).
"In the rock-and-roll world, people say .I don’t want to live past 30,’ but I didn’t mean it," she says.
Concerned about the progression of her complications, Lauran turned to Richard K. Bernstein, MD, for advice. He recommended that she go on a low-carbohydrate regimen.
"It’s done wonders for my health," reports Lauran, who takes daily injections of insulin. (Her work in the water doesn’t allow her to use a pump.)
She adds that she struggles with the difficulty of such a strict diet. "It’s not easy," she concedes.
Despite her complications, she still believes in the power of diet and exercise to help control diabetes. "They do help perform miracles," she says.
Performing Her Own Small Miracle
Lauran hopes to perform her own small miracle for people with diabetes by hosting a chat room on her Web site and also hosting a diabetes support group once a month in El Segundo. She would like to see a support group for the parents of children with diabetes, which she thinks is an unmet need in the community, but she doesn’t have the time to start it herself.
"I’m taking on too many things," she understates.