One Family’s Fight Against Diabetes

The MacMaster family is on the offensive. Laser-focused on a biological cure, the family has directly targeted diabetes – a disease that began waging war on them long ago.

“I was the outlier,” said Fran MacMaster, the matriarch of the family who was diagnosed with type 1 at age 10. There was no previous history of diabetes in her family. And although she has no “war stories so to speak” from her youth – when blood sugar testing was more like a science experiment, she says – it would not be the only time diabetes would strike.

Fran continued to battle diabetes throughout her career, becoming a nurse and a certified diabetes educator, in order to arm others affected by the disease with the knowledge to live well with it. She married Donald MacMaster, a New Jersey trial attorney, and they had four children together: Donald, Jr., Andrew, Katie, and Nicole. Since before they were born, Fran was always concerned her children might develop diabetes.

“I used to creep into their rooms in the middle of the night to test their blood sugar. I’d prick their fingers when they were sleeping, and then hide under the bed if they moved,” she recalled.

Her worries became reality when Andrew was diagnosed with type 1 at age 4. Fran and Don were on the lookout for the signs, and they caught it early. But it was Katie’s diabetes diagnosis that came out of left field.

“We didn’t see it coming,” Fran explained. They didn’t recognize the symptoms, and it was actually Katie – well versed in all things diabetes – who told her parents that she thought she had it. “I didn’t think it could be true…didn’t want it to be true…but I knew we could deal with it since we already had two in the family with diabetes. Katie had a hard time handling the whole process though,” said Fran. Katie lived with it for one year before she passed away at age 12 – unrelated to diabetes.

Through the tragedy, the MacMasters were immersed with an outpouring of support from friends and family, and donations in Katie’s memory, which they gifted to the Diabetes Research Institute (via the Foundation for Diabetes Research). A plaque at the Institute bears her name, and Katie will forever be part of the mission to find a cure for the disease that has plagued her family. The MacMasters’ resolve to find a cure was stronger than ever, igniting a need to contribute to the cure in the best way possible. Don and Fran traveled to Miami to learn more about the DRI’s research firsthand.

“It was inspiring,” said Don. “It’s a relief to know that there’s an organization that is aggressively working to get rid of this disease – not just to manage it, but to cure it. For me, that was key.”

“After walking out of the DRI,” he continued, “our next decision was an easy one.” It was the final push the family needed before making a generous pledge of $250,000 to the DRI to further develop the area of immune tolerance – so that patients can accept transplanted insulin-producing cells long-term, without the need for anti-rejection drugs. It is their hope that one day Andrew will be free from insulin therapy.

“Before Don and I got married, we had a long conversation about me having diabetes…our future and the possibility that our kids would have it, too,” stated Fran. Don quickly followed with, “It was no contest! But it is our hope that Andrew will never need to have that same conversation with the one he chooses to marry.”

Fran concluded, “Diabetes has owned me as a person, as a parent, and as a professional. It has consumed my life, and I need it to stop. With my family’s support, and the added generosity of so many others that give to the Diabetes Research Institute, the scientists will have the tools they need to make diabetes a thing of the past.”

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