Why 5 Canadians will spend 100 hours living on top of flagpoles

The event, hosted by JDRF Canada, kick-starts a $100 million fundraising campaign for research into finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Emma Jones 5 minute read April 5, 2022
Chris Overholt steps into his 40 foot flagpole home

Chris Overholt steps into his 40 foot flagpole home for the next 100 hours raising awareness for the JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation on Toronto’s King Street West at Bay Street, Monday April 4, 2022. [Peter J Thompson] [National Post/TBA for National Post]

Beginning Monday, five Canadians began to live atop a 40-foot flagpole for 100 hours to raise money for research into Type 1 diabetes.

The purpose of the event is to kick-start the “Let’s make history again” fundraising campaign. In recognition of the 100th anniversary of discovery of insulin by Canadian researchers Dr. Frederick Banting and Charles Best, JDRF Canada is aiming to raise $100 million into research for finding a cure.

Roughly 100 attendees, all clad in grey JDRF toques, crowded in front of the Toronto TD towers on Monday morning to see two of the volunteers off. The flagpole, a dark blue pole topped by a small, covered living space, stood just on the edge of the King St. sidewalk. A cherry picker was positioned nearby, presumably ready to lift the flagpole’s new resident into position.

“We will stop at nothing until we find a cure for our children,” Peter Oliver, founder of the Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality group and chair of the campaign, told event attendees.

For Vanessa Oliver, Peter Oliver’s daughter and a commercial real estate broker who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age six, living on top of a flagpole aptly represents the daily balancing act all patients with diabetes experience.

“Type 1 diabetes doesn’t give you any breaks,” Vanessa explains. Every day, Type 1 diabetes patients must take insulin shots or wear an insulin pump and monitor their blood sugars closely. Too much or too little insulin can de deadly.

Vanessa is not new to the flagpole challenge. More than 32 years ago her father lived on top of a flagpole at Mel Lastman square in Toronto to raise money for Type 1 diabetes research. His stunt lasted one week and raised $250,000.

The small huts the volunteers will be living in contain everything they should need, including food and water, a camping toilet and, for Vanessa, enough insulin and blood glucose meters for 4.1 days.

Among the volunteers, morale is high — even though temperatures in Toronto were below 10 degrees.

“100 years since we discovered insulin, 100 hours up a flagpole — seems like a light lift,” says Chris Overholt, the second volunteer to camp out for the cause.

Vanessa and Overholt will be in two separate flagpoles in Toronto — one just outside the Toronto General Hospital and the other outside of the TD Towers on King street. They are joined by Wilson Gaglardi in Vancouver, Ryan McDonald in Calgary and Leanne Souquet in Montreal.

flagpole camp

Ryan MacDonald gets ready to spend the next 100 hours on a platform set up on a flagpole on Monday, April 4, 2022. MacDonald, whose son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of five, will camp out on a platform as part of JDRF Canada’s campaign to raise $100 million to find a cure for diabetes. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

T1D

Type 1 diabetes, previously referred to as Juvenile Diabetes, can occur in any age, although it is typically diagnosed in children or young adults. From 2013-2014, roughly three million Canadians (8.1 per cent of the population) had a diabetes diagnosis, of which 9 per cent is Type 1 (approximately 270,000 Canadians). In 2009, children diagnosed before the age of 19 had a 10-year shorter life expectancy than the average Canadian.

The cause of the illness is unknown, however it typically starts when the body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Without enough insulin, cells have difficulty absorbing glucose — a major source of energy — from the bloodstream.

Living with Type 1 diabetes requires careful regulation. Patients must monitor their blood sugar levels using a glucose monitor (either through a stick-and-poke method or though a continuous pump attached to the bloodstream) and administer insulin or consume carbohydrates to keep their levels in an optimal range throughout the day. This range will vary based on a patient’s age, activities they have coming up, fitness level and other personal factors. Specific ingredients in a dish, amount of exercise in a given day, stress levels and even the weather can all impact blood sugar levels.

Erin Ambrose, part of Canada’s 2022 olympic gold medal hockey team, presents Oliver & Overholt with olympic jerseys before they head up @JDRF_Canada @healthing_ca #T1Diabetes pic.twitter.com/gnMBxyq9Tx — Emma Jones (@JonesyJourn) April 4, 2022

A newer device, often called an automatic pancreas, combines a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump to assist in regulating blood sugar. However, the patient will still have to calculate how many carbs they have eaten and monitor their blood sugar levels to make sure their levels stay consistent.

In Canada, this condition can be very costly to manage. Most provinces and territories have insulin pump programs and rebates for insulin and other necessary medications, however, many Canadians are not fully covered — a deeply worrisome prospect considering insulin is not a choice, but a necessity.

Emma Jones is a multimedia editor with Healthing. You can reach her at emjones@postmedia.com or on Twitter @jonesyjourn.

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