Overcoming the Unthinkable: The Duffy Family Finds a Silver Lining


Tom is a member of the 2019 Beyond Type Run team running the TCS New York City Marathon. Beyond Type Run is sponsored by Dexcom and Tandem Diabetes Care.

Bad timing

Last July, my wife Maura and I were in a hotel room in Baltimore preparing for our 10-month-old daughter Sadie’s second open-heart surgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital. I woke up the morning of the surgery with what I assumed were the nerves of an anxious father. As I lay in bed preparing for the day, I realized that the pain I was feeling was something more than just nerves. Recognizing my discomfort, Maura told me to stay in the room to rest and she alone would take Sadie down for her surgery. I spent the next nine hours in the hotel room in pain waiting for the eventual call that informed me that the surgery was complete and Sadie was in recovery.

Knowing my child was safe, I made my way down to the ER because I knew something in my own body just wasn’t right. I have a history of pain as a result of my pancreas but this was different. As the triage nurse checked me in, I grew confident that this was not just another bout of pancreatitis. The physicians and nurses ran numerous tests while I waited with worry not for myself but for my recovering child and for my wife who was alone in another wing of the same hospital.

Hours later, a doctor came in and informed me that I was in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and that I had type 1 diabetes.

Our backstory

Maura and I are no strangers to hospital surprises. Our oldest son, Tommy (12), has a heart defect called truncus arteriosus and has also had two open-heart surgeries. Our youngest son, Joey (9), was born seven weeks early weighing 3.8 lbs. He was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome when he was 2 years old and had a bone marrow transplant before he turned 3. Sadie has different a heart defect than her bother; it’s called Tetralogy of Fallot. Thankfully, they are all doing amazingly and to look at them, one would never imagine the health obstacles they have faced. We have learned to have faith in our doctors and be thankful that there has always been a plan to fix the issues at hand. Far too often, we have been witness to families being told there is not a cure for their loved one. From the beginning, we made the conscious decision to always look for the silver lining.

There isn’t much information for adults that have recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). I spent the next few days on the internet trying to absorb as much information as I could. I also found some amazing podcasts that helped provide me with a lot of good information. As is always the case in our family, there wasn’t a moment to be sad. I was determined to find the silver lining I knew was there.

I started watching what I ate and got more serious about going to the gym. I binge-listened to the Type One Run podcast and set a personal goal to apply for the Beyond Type Run team and run the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon. The application process was nine months away but it was something I was determined to do. I was thrilled when I got the email that I had been accepted.

Why I run

I started running in 2013 as a way to bond with my son Joey’s bone marrow donor, Robbie, and his mother, Susan. Susan ran the Boston Marathon in 2012 and 2013 in honor of Joey and raised money for pediatric cancer research. I was inspired by her efforts and decided to train so I could run along side her while our families cheered us on… Together.

I registered to compete in the Baltimore marathon and upon completion I began working to get on the Dana Farber marathon team for Boston. In April 2015, Susan and I, along with our families, made the trip to Hopkinton and geared up for the Boston Marathon. Susan had trained much harder than I had been able to and she had a sub four-hour goal. Since my goal was to soak up my achievement on the way to the finish line we shared a final hug and agreed to meet later. Those 26.2 miles on a cold and rainy day were extremely challenging but I kept my children in mind and kept reminding myself that if they could overcome their health obstacles I could overcome my exhaustion and fatigue.

I knew that once I reached mile 25, I would begin to see my family and hear their cheers of support. I entered into the home stretch with visions of Robbie holding Joey and cheering for me to keep going and reach my goal. Their encouragement gave me the motivation I needed to finish the race.

Maura and I have raised our children to not let their medical issues hold them back from setting and attaining their goals. We have taught them that nothing, including their health impairments, can limit them from doing whatever it is they want to do in this life. My goal in running the TCS New York City Marathon is to show my children that an unexpected diagnosis doesn’t have to be a setback in life—in fact, it can be the silver lining that motivates you to achieve the dreams you didn’t even know you had.

Tom Duffy is raising money for Beyond Type 1 through Beyond Type Run—his fundraising will make a real difference in the lives of those living with T1D.

WRITTEN BY Tom Duffy, POSTED 07/01/19, UPDATED 11/11/22

Tom Duffy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2018. He is a father of four, three of whom have dealt with their own serious health obstacles. As a family, the Duffys strive to not let anything get them down and always look for the positive outlook. Tom is a member of Beyond Type Run's 2019 TCS New York City Marathon team.