Story by: Maggie Roetker on April 14, 2023
Providers with Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute offer specialized education and care for children and young adults with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Wendy Novak was 7 years old when she learned she has Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes. Her father also had Type 1, so the family was well aware of the classic symptoms — excessive thirst and frequent trips to the restroom.
“When they found out that I did have diabetes, it was very upsetting to my father, so we didn’t want to talk about it much,” Wendy said.
In fact, her father never shared with others that he had diabetes, fearing the consequences of what others might think of his ability to work. But now, Wendy is talking about it, hopeful that others can benefit.
Nearly half a million children and adults in Kentucky have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. That’s a rate of 14%, ranking Kentucky eighth in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Type 1 diabetes usually is diagnosed in children and young adults, and occurs when cells in the pancreas, damaged by the immune system, produce little or no insulin. Insulin is necessary for moving blood sugar into cells for storage and use as energy. When the body does not make enough insulin, the blood sugar builds up and cannot turn into energy.
While no one knows the exact cause, this autoimmune disorder can be fatal if not properly treated. People with Type 1 diabetes must test their blood sugar five or more times per day. Treatment includes taking multiple insulin injections or using an insulin pump every day, along with maintaining proper diet and exercise. There currently is no cure.
Type 1 diabetes differs from Type 2 diabetes, which is more commonly diagnosed in adults. In Type 2, the body becomes resistant to the insulin it produces, often due to weight gain, poor diet and lack of activity. Ultimately, this results in high blood sugar as well.
While Wendy has always believed that you can do anything you want, even with Type 1 diabetes, you still have to take care of yourself.
“You have to keep your blood sugar balanced, using insulin to reduce the highs and adding food to raise it if you’re too low,” Wendy said.
In her childhood, that insulin was injected manually after checking levels with test strips. Today, Wendy is able to wear a device that checks her sugar and a pump to add insulin as needed.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges over the years, and that’s just part of living with the disease,” said Wendy’s husband, David Novak, founder of the Lift a Life Novak Family Foundation and former chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands Inc., headquartered in Louisville. “But it is a huge, huge challenge. I always say, ‘A diabetic never gets a day off.’ You and I, we live our lives healthy. We don’t think about it, but she gets up every day and she has to manage something.”
“In-control diabetes is not that big a deal. Out-of-control is a killer,” Wendy said.
A $15 million gift from the Lift a Life Novak Family Foundation is the starting point of a $60 million vision to expand diabetes care for children and adults at Norton Children’s and Norton Healthcare by creating Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute.
The goal of the institute is to become a national center of excellence by expanding and elevating diabetes care services across the region, while helping children and adults with diabetes manage their conditions. The institute also will make it easier for pediatric patients as they grow and move on to adult care.
Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute will focus on developing and expanding key areas to support adults and kids living with all forms of diabetes: Expanding facilities for diabetes patients, expanding the workforce, increasing patient support, expanding programming and increasing research.
“We are confident that with the strategic partnership with Norton Children’s and Norton Healthcare and the outstanding leadership of Kupper A. Wintergerst, M.D., one of the most renowned endocrinologists in the world, we can continue to climb the rankings and become the best-practice institution others will want to emulate,” David Novak said. “We see this impacting not only Louisville but the world.”