Dr John Hunt: Diabetes care innovator

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 56 , No. 5 , June 2014 , Pages 214 Editorials

There are many individuals who have shaped my medical knowledge and practice over the years, but Dr John Hunt deserves mention for the many contributions he has made in the field of diabetes care, both locally and nationally. Over the course of his long medical career he dedicated his time and energy to improving the lives of Canadians affected by diabetes. He has been retired now for about 10 years and just recently celebrated his 87th birthday. He accumulated many accomplishments during his career of over 50 years and I would like to highlight a few of them.

I met John when I moved here to join him in practice in 1986. Until then he had been practising endocrinology solo for years on the North Shore. Although he loved all aspects of medicine, his main interest was in treating individuals with diabetes. He had a large population of patients ranging from children to seniors and a large referral base extending from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast, Northern BC, and Vancouver Island. Whenever I had a difficult case to manage, he was there to offer sage advice. He employed innovative approaches with insulin therapy, given the limited types of insulin available at the time.

In 1962 he started Camp Kakhamela, a camp for type 1 diabetics age 6 to 17 years where they could spend time away from home in a safe and fun environment, meet other people living with diabetes, and learn skills to lead productive and full lives. Kakhamela is a First Nations word that means hunt, and the camp is named in honor of him. The camp continues to this day.

Dr Hunt was president of the Canadian Diabetes Association from 1964 to 1966. In 1966 he established the Diabetes Day Centre at Lions Gate Hospital, the first of its kind in North America. It started as a project to keep diabetic patients out of hospital and teach them how to live normal, useful lives in the community. As he said, “The person ultimately responsible for controlling diabetes is the patient. And he can only do this effectively if he has sufficient knowledge of his diabetes and how to handle it.” When this project was first proposed, government funding was not available, but it went ahead anyway with help from donations. It was so successful that other hospitals modeled their programs after it. Today the centre is still going strong, which is a testament to Dr Hunt’s vision.

In 1984 Dr Hunt was the first recipient of the Canadian Diabetes Association’s Dr Charles H. Best award, recognizing a health professional who made a significant impact in improving the quality of life of Canadians living with diabetes.

In 1988, along with Dr Hugh Tildesley, Dr Hunt convinced the government to fund glucose monitoring test strips as a Pharmacare benefit. This was the first program to be linked to a diabetes education centre and stimulated the growth of diabetes centres throughout BC. This also led to a certification process for diabetes teaching centres incorporating Canadian Diabetes Association standards.

In 2012 he was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for providing essential diabetes support. The award honors significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.

Dr Hunt did all this in his quiet, unassuming way. I thank him for his dedication, compassion, and tireless commitment to the improvement of diabetes care. John, a huge toast to you!

Susan E. Haigh, MD. Dr John Hunt: Diabetes care innovator. BCMJ, Vol. 56, No. 5, June, 2014, Page(s) 214 - Editorials.

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