Oct 21 2009

zippora karz “the sugarless plum”

Published by at 10:55 am under diabetes,healthcare,portraits

Update: There is a cover feature on Zippora in the February, 2010 issue of Diabetes Forecast.

Zippora Karz was living her dream of dancing in the New York City Ballet. She was a standout in the School of American Ballet founded by George Balanchine and had been anointed by Jerome Robbins to dance in leading roles in the New York City Ballet.

But something was wrong with her instrument – her body.  As she explains“…I didn’t feel right. I felt more fatigued than I should have and tried to ignore the symptoms that were affecting me daily, from hunger pangs and frequent urination, to a spaced- out feeling in my head. But it was the sores under my arms where the costumes rubbed that threatened my ability to perform. They got so infected I could not lift my arms and forced me to go to a doctor.”

Zippora tells her story as a dancer with diabetes in her new book “The Sugarless Plum”. In it she shares her passion for dance and her struggles to find a doctor that could properly diagnose her condition and balance her treatment with the demands of being a world class athlete.

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Zippora Karz posing on sandstone rock formation near her Malibu home

The diabetes doctor she eventually discovered is my wife, Dr. Anne Peters and Zippora shared some of her story in Anne’s book Conquering Diabetes.

“Next I found a doctor who was very balanced in her approach to diabetes. I went back to frequent blood sugar monitoring and taking injections of insulin, but never right before I went on stage. I always kept my meter right offstage in my dance bag and always kept something to reverse a low blood sugar in it. I was finally learning how to adapt to having diabetes.

As I learned the delicate play of dancing with diabetes I also had to look reality in the face. Dancing was my passion, but was this lifestyle realistic for a person with type 1 diabetes? Part of me felt relieved at the idea of quitting. I was tired. But more than that I had lost confidence in my body and in my dancing. Using diabetes as an excuse felt like an easy way out. I thought long and hard about this and eventually decided if I quit then I would never know the truth. So I stayed with the company and hung in there. I eventually found a way to balance my diet, exercise, and performances. Ultimately, I was promoted to the rank of soloist ballerina of the New York City Ballet where I performed until August of 1999.”

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Zippora preparing one of her daily doses of insulin

Zippora was living and dancing in New York City when she was diagnosed with diabetes.  She had access to many endocrinologists and was very persistent in changing doctors until she found one she could work with to help her manage her diabetes and continue dancing.  Because of her persistence, Zippora has done amazingly well.  She had a successful career in the ballet and is now working as a teacher in Los Angeles.  She has no complications from her diabetes and serves as a role model to lots of young people who have diabetes.

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness Zippora in action a number of times at diabetes camps sharing her story and joy of movement with youngsters learning to live with diabetes. There is a great video of Zippora telling her story at her booksite where you can read some excepts as well.

Mark Harmel



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