Kacher makes diabetes developments ‘easy to understand’
Twenty-three-years-old and 2,700 miles from home, Mark Kacher was told he had no more than 25 years to live.
That was 44 years ago.
Now, in 2018, Kacher is retired, living in Deerfield Township, and is the JDRF Cincinnati-area Volunteer of the Year. Sitting in a conference room at the organization’s offices in Kenwood, he remembers the August day in 1974 when he learned he was a Type 1 diabetic.
“I was in grad school at UCLA at the time. I’m from Philadelphia originally, so opposite coast. I was 23. I had not been feeling well for a few months, and I didn’t know anything about diabetes at the time at all, and I had lost some weight, had all the symptoms,” Kacher said. “Went to student health, which is always a mistake (laughs), they misdiagnosed me, said I had a strep throat. I’m sure I had strep throat, but they missed everything else. Three days later I was in the ER, blood sugar over 900, in a ketoacidosis semi-coma. I was in the hospital for 11 days – four in ICU and 11 days total – 50 bottles of intravenous fluid because I was so dehydrated. That was the beginning.”
Few people know as well as Kacher know how life as Type 1 has changed since then. Diagnosis in 1974 was not necessarily a death sentence, but it was a different world.
“Well, one of the things that I was told while I was in the hospital was I had a 25-year life expectancy, which when you’re 23, that’s about a lifetime, so I didn’t really enter into it,” Kacher said. “Yes, it was a change in lifestyle, because at that point you really couldn’t do that much about it, except to take your insulin and make sure you really had to eat at 4 o’clock in the afternoon because otherwise you would go too low, so it was rather regimented.”
After retiring from Procter & Gamble in 2008, Kacher contacted the local chapter. He had participated in both ADA (American Diabetes Association) and JDRF walks and other activities, and wanted to expand his involvement.
“They said they had a new position from national that they were looking to fill, and that was research information volunteer. That was in late 2009, I think, and that’s when I really started volunteering,” he said.
“Since he got involved with JDRF eight years ago, Mark has been an instrumental part of our chapter’s success. During his time as a volunteer, he has played a role in almost every facet of our organization, from walk and ride, to gala and outreach, government relations, and spearheading the Research Information Volunteer (RIV) team,” JDRF Southwest Ohio Executive Director Melissa Newman said.
“He also represents out chapter well as a member of the national research committee. He is a past board president and current chair of the Board of Chancellors as well as our lead RIV. He also chairs the Volunteer Engagement committee and plays a bit role in outreach.”
As JDRF’s research information volunteer, Kacher keeps current on the latest developments in the ongoing search to improve the lives of Type 1 diabetics.
“Basically the research information volunteer role, you listen, you participate in webinars where, a research topic, once a month, there’s a research topic, where they’ll go into more depth about that. It could be the artificial pancreas, it could be the encapsulation technology, and they’ll go into more depth about that, and then there’s also, JDRF has an intranet, its called ‘One Place,’ where you can look at article and read up on it, and really try to keep on that, but more importantly, not just for me, but how do I talk to groups,” Kacher said.
“For the first several years it was just me, and then I’d gave people come up to me after a talk and say ‘That was really interesting,’ and they’d give me their background. We’ve had engineers and I’ve had other P&Gers, but I’d recruit them on the spot, say ‘Hey, how’d you be interested in doing this to?’ and more often than not I would get somebody.”
To get used to public speaking, Kacher became a lector in his church, “where I could just read the gospel for that week or whatever, and that got me very comfortable speaking in front of large groups.”
Now, he no longer scripts his talks.
“I would say it took me over a year to really understand it. So the first couple of talks, it was more, I almost wrote them out, because I wanted to make sure I had things right, and if someone would ask me a question, maybe, I’d get it, maybe I wouldn’t, but I would always look it up afterwards,” Kacher said, “But after a year, a year-and-a-half or so, I started to really feel comfortable. I don’t prepare scripts anymore. One of the things (JDRF development director) Nick’s (Wagner) always said, ‘I learned something new,’ that’s because I never give the same talk twice. I really don’t. It’s what I think is important at that point in time.”
“Mark is involved in many areas of our chapter, but I think the reason he is the most deserving is his work as our research information chair,” Wagner said. “Diabetes research can be complicated and Mark is great at stripping down all the information to make sure that our families are able to understand in a way that is not so complicated.”
So what is important to know now?
“The advances have been amazing. I mean the advances have absolutely been amazing. It’s impossible for anybody, including those in headquarters, to keep track of everything. There’s just so many things happening. So it’s really, the key is, figuring out what I need to know, what I’d like to know, and what I really don’t have to know, and that’s the biggest challenge to me, because I love the research, I love hearing about it,” he said.
While a Type 1 cure is the ultimate goal, the focus seems to be shifting to prevention – more specifically, identifying Type 1 diabetics before the onset of the disease.
“It’s really kind of ‘What stage are we at?’ I’ll get questions … saying, ‘What do you think about this?’ They’ll read something on the internet, or a blog or something, ‘What do you think about that?’ and then I have to say, ‘Well, maybe it could happen, but they’re kind of exaggerating a little bit here. ‘ They’ve given it on mice. Well we’ve cured mice 718 times now, so, the fact that they’ve done it on mice and they’re saying this is the next cure, nah, be cautious about that,” Kacher said.
“It is shifting, because now we can tell if someone is going to develop at some point in their lifetime with 100 percent. Do we have prevention? No. Can we make sure you don’t go into ketoacidosis initially, yes. We went from 37 to 4 percent for those being monitored.
“I speak to a lot of parents who say ‘I’m going to keep a real close eye,’ but it’s even better if you now ahead of time before you even show symptoms that oh, the next month or so, it’s going to happen.”
His advice to newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetics: “Two things. One, there is a lot of hope. You can live a full life. There’s no limits of what you can do. I usually bring up a few examples of athletes, or that sort of thing. We have no limits. Get to know other people in the community to learn you’re not the only one.”
Kacher, who lives in Deerfield Township with his husband, Jim Imholt, will be honored at the JDRF Cincinnatian of the Year gala May 12 at the Duke Energy Convention Center.
“I’m just humbled. It’s just a humbling experience because I’ve had a few other awards for, more community awards, it’s a group of a lot of other people, but this just being one, and being selected by basically my peers, people that have previously won that, I’m ecstatic and I’m really humbled by it,” Kacher said.
For more information about the Cynthia Marver Marmer Volunteer of the Year Award, click here.
Written by: Richard Maloney, JDRF Volunteer