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Personal Stories

Professional Musician Jonni Lightfoot Opens Up About the Challenges of Life with T1D

Professional musician and Salt Lake City native Jonni Lightfoot was diagnosed at age 27 and, like many adults with type 1, has no family history. Lightfoot is an accomplished bassist, guitarist, recording engineer, producer, and songwriter. He has won numerous bass-playing awards with five solo records, including “Most Innovative New Artist” from Bass Frontiers Magazine for his unique piccolo bass performance.

Professional Musician Jonni Lightfoot Opens Up About the Challenges of Life with T1D

Some say the bass player might be the band’s most important member. They bridge the gap between the guitarist, drummer, and singer by providing both rhythm and melody, a task just as challenging— controlling type 1 diabetes.

Managing your blood sugar day and night is a delicate balance. The chronic autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells is a 24/7, full-time, ever-changing job with additional factors to consider constantly. Exercise, hormones, and stress are just a few.

Professional musician and Salt Lake City native Jonni Lightfoot was diagnosed at age 27 and, like many adults with type 1, has no family history. Lightfoot is an accomplished bassist, guitarist, recording engineer, producer, and songwriter. With five solo records, he has won numerous bass-playing awards, including “Most Innovative New Artist” from Bass Frontiers Magazine for his unique piccolo bass performance.

Jonni Lightfoot’s Colorful Résumé

Musical artist Jonni Lightfoot has played in intimate club settings and large mega-seated arenas worldwide. His eclectic career includes playing bass for the 80s super group Air Supply and heavy metal band Starbreaker. Lightfoot has also partnered with Toni Harnell’s rock band, TNT, and Erik Turner of the heavy metal band Warrant. He’s also toured with Ted Poley of Danger Danger and now tours with country artist Charley Jenkins.

Lightfoot played bass and was the recording engineer for Air Supply from 2001-2016. He worked on nine of Air Supply’s albums, including “Mumbo Jumbo” and “Alternate Ending,” which Graham and Lightfoot co-wrote. He has two gold records and an Asia Pacific Grammy.

Throughout his career, Lightfoot traveled over 200 days a year on worldwide tours, including Asia, India and Cuba, while managing his type 1 diabetes. Today, Lightfoot DJs for a local Salt Lake rock station, KBER, where he has written custom jingles and music beds for the station.

T1D Strong got the chance to discuss his profession and personal life touring with type 1 diabetes. Lightfoot, now 50, was diagnosed in his late twenties at the prime of his career. Here, he discusses his trials, successes and challenges living with the disease.

Tell us about how you were diagnosed.

Lightfoot: I had all the classic symptoms you hear of—I dropped a bunch of weight all at once, I was constantly thirsty, urinating every 30 minutes. My family and I were pretty sure it was type 1 diabetes, and my primary care physician confirmed it. When I went in to see him, I had only eaten a little watermelon for breakfast, and my blood sugar was over 400.

Do you have any family history of type 1 diabetes?

Lightfoot: To the best of my knowledge, no one in my family has ever had it. My doctor told me at the time that they believed a virus could trigger it. Of course, genetics plays a role, but more and more, they find it can be brought on by a bad case of the flu. It really took its toll on me at the time. I had developed a bunch of bad habits; I ate whatever I wanted. I told my doctor I wished I had gotten it as a kid, and he said, ‘No, you don’t.’

Lightfoot added, “I had terrible mood swings before I was diagnosed. I can remember not being able to focus at band practice, and now, looking back, I think I might have had T1D for about ten years prior.”

Erin with T1D Strong commented: “Before my son was diagnosed at age four, he experienced terrible crying jags where I couldn’t calm him down. Looking back, I’m sure he was experiencing high and low blood sugar attacks—but we had no idea it could be diabetes.”

According to the National Institutes of Heath, people with diabetes may experience mood swings due to low or high blood sugar levels. In some cases, especially with adult on-set diabetes, the process where the body destroys the pancreatic insulin-producing cells can go on for months or even years before more significant symptoms occur. Type 1 symptoms are similar to other health conditions. Requesting a blood glucose test from your doctor if you suspect T1D is easy.

What is your insulin therapy now?

Lightfoot: I have had a Medtronic pump since about two years after my diagnosis. I’ve actually been the Medtronic Ambassador for them for a while now. They wanted to show I wasn’t the typical case as it can affect anyone at any age. I was away from home for about 200 days of the year, traveling and touring. As their spokesperson, I try to tell people diabetes is not a death sentence. You can still lead a healthy life.

Do you have a Continuous Glucose Monitor?

 Lightfoot: I tried the Dexcom, but I took sharp corners and was always knocking it off!

Life on the Road with T1D

What challenges did you face with the rock n roll lifestyle of partying, tour buses, and late nights?

Lightfoot: I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, so that was never an issue. I found the most challenging part of life on the road was trying to eat healthy. Musicians are constantly at airports, eating fast food, or the only option is a buffet at a gig where there are only high-sugar and high-carb foods. I battled to find healthy options that wouldn’t make my blood sugar skyrocket.

Diet and exercise play important roles in T1D Management.

How do you keep your blood sugar numbers in check?

Lightfoot: I’ve found that exercise really keeps my sugars down. I feel better and look better when I exercise regularly and watch what I eat. My A1c has gone down from 14 to 9. I used to have terrible leg cramps, but now that I’m more focused on working out and eating healthy, I feel so much better overall.

What does hypoglycemia feel like to you, and how do you handle low blood sugar attacks?

Lightfoot: I feel drunk, happy, lovey-dovey. I’ve had some scary lows where I’ve blacked out and woken up to the paramedics treating me. I’ve also had bad cases of DKA where I was hospitalized. Being in a foreign country, like India, with DKA is no fun.

(DKA or diabetic ketoacidosis is a severe complication of type 1 diabetes where the body produces excess blood acids due to a lack of insulin. It can be triggered by infection or illness.)

What do you carry with you, and what is the best treatment for low blood sugar?

Lightfoot: I carry extra syringes, pump supplies, test strips, insulin, and a meter. I bring hard candies for low blood sugar and recently discovered glucose paste at my doctor’s office. It’s great for treating lows and will take me from 50 to 200 pretty quickly. Before, I’d eat everything in the kitchen to increase my blood sugar. I’d keep eating because I still felt low, even when I wasn’t. The paste raises it fast, and there is no crash after.

Treating lows can be a vicious cycle of a low blood sugar episode (hypoglycemia) followed by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). As you correct the low, you feel the need to eat sugary snacks, which spike your blood sugar levels, causing you to crash suddenly afterward when you then try to correct for the high.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced with type 1 diabetes?

Lightfoot: I think it’s making the right food choices. I can’t always eat what I eat at home, and finding healthy food options on the road or at airports is hard.

What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?

Lightfoot: I’d tell them to take care of it one hundred percent! Take it seriously, check your sugars, eat well, and exercise. The complications are real and will catch up to you if you’re not careful. As I said before, it’s not a death sentence. Take care of it, and you can have an amazing life.

You can listen to Jonni Lightfoot on Apple Music and follow his tour schedule at www.jonnilightfoot.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonnilightfootmusic.

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