Despite diabetes, photographer keeps life in focus
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November is the harbinger of winter in Utah, but on the other side of the world it is the beginning of summer. There, Park City nature and wildlife photographer David Schultz is setting up his camera in Antarctica's "banana belt," where balmy temperatures range from 25 to 45 degrees.

It is his third visit.

Schultz's stunning photographs of the White Continent's icy formations and the antics of its wildlife - think of fuzzy king penguin chicks dancing and Weddell seals loafing - show people the wonders of a world most of us never will see in person.

And here is the irony: Schultz, a type I diabetic with retinopathy, gradually is losing his vision.

"I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 13. I am 50 now. I was told from the beginning that I had signs of retinopathy and eventually will be blind," he said.

A leading cause of blindness in the United States, diabetic retinopathy is a complication of type I diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. Laser treatment is sometimes used to slow the progress and perhaps prevent loss of sight.

Schultz said in 1969, diabetes was "scary and complicated," even without being told he would lose his eyesight.

"When they told me I had to take shots, I asked, 'For how long?' The answer was for the rest of my life," he remembers.

Today, type I diabetes remains a condition "for the rest of your life," said Mary Murray, medical director of Primary Children's Medical Center diabetes program and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. But advances in treatment since Schultz's boyhood have made huge differences.

"Although blindness [in type I diabetes] is a real possibility, it is not a given," Murray said. "Early control of diabetes can decrease the threat. We have better data and better tools to be more precise in treatment than was possible 40 years ago.

"Home blood glucose meters," she offered as an example, "enable people to know what their blood glucose level is within a few seconds and adjust insulin doses more accurately."

At 17, and still in high school, Schultz began three years of summer driving trips to see as much of the country as possible while he could. By the time he as 20, he had bought "a decent camera," and discovered he was good a using it. Schultz became a professional photographer and among other things, did fashion shoots and festivals in Dallas.

It was a fashion shoot that took him to Park City. Moving to Heber 19 years ago turned his attention to nature and wildlife photography. On display in his West Light Images Gallery, there are photographs of bison, horses and barns and Yellowstone Park scenes.

Schultz credits the book, The Endurance, about Sir Ernest Shackleton's attempt to be the first to cross the Antarctic, as inspiration for his trips to see and photograph the Antarctic.

The life of a nature photographer can be solitary.

While Schultz often takes his Labrador dog Koda on location with him, basically all photographs of Schultz show a lone man, dwarfed by a majestic scene, whether it is at Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia or Paria Canyon in Utah.

For a diabetic, traveling and being a "loner" can be a major challenge. It it is not something that Schultz takes lightly.

"I want people to know that having diabetes is not the end of the world. It also is not going away any time soon. And this is what I want to do as long as I can.

"I always am aware of my surroundings. I do not take chances with wildlife. I maintain healthy eating habits and I am careful to monitor blood sugar . . . [when people ask about] giving myself insulin shots, I say the shots are not so bad. It is the [finger] pin pricks to measure blood glucose that hurt. But it is worth it."

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* JUDY MAGID can be contacted at magid@sltrib.com or 801-257-8608. Send comments about this story to livingeditor@sltrib.com.