Advocating for Healthy Lifestyles
Karen Panzirer, M.S. ’95
School of Health Sciences and Practice
Nutrition, fitness and healthy living were always part of Karen Panzirer’s life but she didn’t realize how important it was until her six-year old daughter was diagnosed with type I diabetes. Now she is pulling out all the tools in her toolbox to advocate for juvenile diabetes research and education.
Karen Panzirer, M.S. ’95, discovered her passion for nutrition and healthy living early on. While working toward her master’s degree in nutrition at New York Medical College, she also managed a fitness club that she and her sister had decided to open—a daytime joint venture that left evenings free for study.
“Every class struck a chord with me. I would actually get to spend three hours just learning about Vitamin D,” she says of her rigorous, yet rewarding, courses.
Panzirer’s internship at Greenwich Hospital also proved to be challenging and rewarding in unexpected ways. “During my third day at work,” she begins, “I got called into the medical director’s office. He informed me that there was a patient on the third floor that needed a consult. It was my first solo experience.” Steeling her nerves, she walked in the patient’s room and after more than an hour of conversation with the patient and his wife, the woman insisted on Panzirer meeting her grandson. Today that grandson, David Panzirer, is her husband and they have three children together.
When their daughter, Morgan, was six years old and exhibiting frequent thirst and urination, Panzirer decided to have her tested for diabetes—hoping that she was just worrying over nothing. “We had no genetic link to type I diabetes, and I know genetics is a key indicator, so I was sure I was wrong.”
The test confirmed her fear, however, and Panzirer spent the next day at Columbia with an endocrine specialist. “We were there all day learning how to test Morgan’s blood, how to give her shots, what to feed her, and when. It was overwhelming,” she recalls.
The Panzirers, who also had a three-year old and a threemonth old at the time, received a great deal of emotional support from their families. David Panzirer was the one who got up with Morgan at night to test her blood every three hours. Drawing on her education, Panzirer says, “I began to focus on Morgan’s nutrition and taught her what to eat to manage her diabetes.”
Today Panzirer feels good about shifting her family’s focus to healthy habits. “Morgan can look at a cupcake and tell you how many carbs are in it,” she jokes. She has tapped her passion for physical fitness to raise awareness by running marathons for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She even appeared on television with Martha Stewart to discuss diabetes. For his part, David has become a trustee for the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the largest private foundation funder of type I diabetes—spearheading its efforts to develop better therapies, devices, and services for the autoimmune disease.
The couple’s advocacy and support are making a difference in the field—and at home. Eventually Morgan was able to transition from constant injections to a pump. Today she wears a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) wireless device that monitors her blood levels, provides insulin, and alerts her of changes in glucose levels to avoid needle sticks in the middle of the night.
“Part of my advocacy is to inform patients and doctors alike that the treatment options have improved since the 1980s,” Panzirer says, noting her surprise that one of Morgan’s doctors had never heard of the newer methods like CGM devices. “There are new treatments and disease management techniques that can make living with diabetes easier. You can have type I diabetes and still have a full life.”