Type 1 Pumper Runs Fifty 50 Diabetes Company With a High-Minded Bottom Line

Half of Fifty 50’s profits are donated to research seeking a diabetes cure that, once found, will put Fifty 50 out of business. Its a novel business plan, funding your own demise, but it works for Gary Russell, the companys president and one of its three founders, along with John Beers and Patricia Gawdun. Since the company debuted its first product in 1991, its given away over ten million dollars to diabetes research.

A few years ago, the company expanded from its food origins into a mail-order pharmacy and a medical division that sells its own infusion set. Within the pharmacy is a division called 6995, from which people without insurance can buy a month’s supply of products for a flat $69.95 a month. All in all, it’s a company with its heart in the right place.

Gary Russells road to Fifty 50 began in 1972, when he was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 30. At the time, he was about ten years into a career as an officer in the Coast Guard. He moved to business after the Coast Guard medically retired him because of his diabetes: insulin-dependent diabetics werent allowed to go to sea.

Ten years ago, Gary went on the pump. He uses the Animus 400 and tests about ten times a day, although he hates to see a high number because, he says, “you live by the number, and it becomes a real thing.” He tries to keep his numbers even by eating a low glycemic diet, the guiding philosophy of the Fifty 50 food product offerings. He’s “absolutely convinced” that the low glycemic diet works well. He has very few lows, he says, and the diet keeps the highs knocked down.

Diabetes is something of a poor relative among diseases, Gary points out, because it’s always tomorrow’s problem. Even though it’s booming like nobody’s business, it doesn’t get near the attention that another disease would receive if it were exploding in the same manner.  The difference, he believes, stems from the fact that the threat of diabetes isn’t apparent on a daily basis; it’s just not scary like cancer, for instance. The disease is falling victim to massive procrastination, on both a personal and a global level, simply because it’s so slow to show consequences. As for him, he is grateful that he has type 1 rather than type 2 just because the option of ignoring it is not there.  He knows he has to fight it every day, at least until there’s a cure. 

Gary notes that when he first developed diabetes, the cure was just on horizon. It’s been perpetually receding since then, and the more he learns, the more complex the whole thing seems. But he continues to believe that the cure will come within the next twenty years.  He fully expects to see it himself, and it’s possible that the profits from Fifty 50 will help bring it about.

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