Last Updated: 03/15/04 06:40 PM

Indianapolis Star
Sunday, October 31, 1999


*As their blood-sugar levels plunged without warning, patients' lives spiraled out of control*

By Jeff Swiatek
Staff Writer

A small minority of U.S. insulin users are caught in a medical bind. They not only depend on Eli Lilly's Iletin 1 beef-pork insulin, which will soon disappear from the market, they also say they've had disastrous results using the recommended replacement product, biosynthetic human insulin.

Here are the stories of three:


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Ken E. Tamblyn's view of himself as a "picture perfect" diabetic changed in late 1997:

At the urging of his pharmacist, the Phoenix real estate appraiser switched from beef-pork insulin to biosynthetic human insulin.

In the next six weeks, he twice slipped into a diabetic coma while on the couch at home.

Despite closely tracking the blood-sugar levels and taking higher doses of the new insulin, he couldn't control his blood-sugar level. And he found his normally upbeat mood turning sullen.

Headed for an appraisal on an October morning last year, Tamblyn suffered a low blood sugar attack while driving. He made it to a parking lot, lapsed into a coma until early evening, then groggily began driving home.

"I remember it being just being a bad dream," he said. Driving a Volkswagen Beetle, Tamblyn side-swiped other cars.

"I was driving like a maniac," he said.

Five police cars finally got Tamblyn to stop, then handcuffed him and took him to jail.

Tamblyn, 39, had a perfect driving record until then. He now faces multiple charges, including hit-and-run, resisting arrest and speeding, said his lawyer, Dan Treon.

A Phoenix prosecutor refuses to believe a diabetic attack caused the incident, and has pressed for a trial.

Last spring, Tamblyn switched back to beef-pork insulin. "I've been fine ever since," he said. "It's like a miracle happened."

But now he doesn't know where to find affordable supplies of the animal insulin he needs.


Linda's Website

In 1992, Linda Vernier followed conventional advice and switched from beef-pork to biosynthetic human insulin.

It began in what the Placentia, Calif., high school teacher calls her 14 month nightmare.

Until then, the 43-year-old was a self-described model diabetic, exercising regularly, eating right and keeping notes of it all.

But on the new human insulin, her blood-sugar levels swung wildly, she passed out once in class and she had to wake up every two hours at night to check her blood-sugar.

"It was the hardest thing I ever did to try to stay alive," she said. In desperation, she went back on beef-pork insulin, and "within 24 hours I felt back under control."

Vernier said her 1994 letter to insulin maker Eli Lilly and Co., detailing her nightmare, went unanswered.

Her case led to the creation of a web site,, that tells her plight. Friend William Welty, who runs a bible translation foundation, oversees the web page, which has become a clearing house for information on human and animal insulin.

Two weeks ago, Vernier received her first shipment of all-beef insulin from a company in England. She's unsure whether it will work as well as Iletin beef-pork mix.


Three years after biosynthetic human insulin came on the market in 1986, Cheryl D. Smith began using on the advice of her doctor.

The change from animal insulin, which she'd used since 1956, quickly went awry.

Smith, then a temporary worker at a Massachusetts telephone company, began passing out on the job.

"It was terrible," she said. "I could not control my sugar, and I'm pretty fastidious about how I control myself."

After six months, she returned to animal insulin and her control improved. A fast-acting human insulin she used for a brief period in 1996, also caused her blood-sugar to drop without warning.

Now a nurse for the Nursing Center at the Amherst (Mass.) Council on aging, Smith, 47, councils elderly diabetics and others.

She considers the problems some people seem to suffer using biosynthetic human insulin "a big issue in diabetic treatment. And it's been suppressed for some reason."

She hopes to import insulin to replace the Iletin 1 that she soon won't be able to buy.

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