- Cobra Kai actor Mary Mouser was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 13.
- Though initially fearful the condition would hold her back from her dreams of acting, Mouser learned to manage her diabetes and thrive in her career.
- Mouser now uses her platform to help raise awareness of type 1 diabetes and encourage other young people who are living with the condition as well.
Actress Mary Mouser is best known for her role as teenager Sam LaRusso on the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai. In the show, she is taught by her dad Daniel (The Karate Kid), to strike, kick, and fight with all her might. And like the character she plays on set, Mouser had to learn all the moves from scratch.
“[I] was truly the most uncoordinated, unskillful stunt person you’ve ever met, and I feel like I now at least am to a point where I can decently hold my own, and I feel confident, and I feel powerful when it comes doing karate on the show,” Mouser told Healthline.
The accomplishment means something a little more to her than it does to the fictional Sam, as Mouser lives with type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin.
“I kind of joke that I was allergic to exercise before my diagnosis. I was very anti-anything that involved working up a sweat, but since then, obviously, I learned how important it was in terms of managing my diabetes and how for me, physical activity and exercise makes my life with diabetes so much less complicated,” she said.
In fact, people with type 1 diabetes should engage in physical activity, said Dr. Bradley Thrasher, an endocrinologist at Norton Children’s and the Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute. He said physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetic complications, as well as improve sleep, mood, and blood sugar control in those living with type 1 diabetes.
“Sometimes people living with type 1 are hesitant to participate in physical activity as it greatly impacts blood sugar levels,” he told Healthline.
For instance, aerobic and strenuous activities such as running, swimming, and cycling will often cause blood sugars to drop and lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
“Once they know their patterns, then a plan can be developed to prevent any lows. This could be food choices in the preceding meal, timing of a snack, use of Gatorade, carrying a glucose gel or many other options,” Dr. Kathleen Wyne, an endocrinologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
On the other hand, anaerobic or high intensity activities, such as weightlifting, sprinting, and circuit training, often cause blood sugar to increase and can lead to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), said Thrasher.
Dealing with the unknown after diagnosis
Diagnosed shortly after her 13th birthday, Mouser is among the more than 1.9 million Americans who have type 1 diabetes.
“[I] vividly remember at the time being like ‘I really want to remember 13. What’s something cool I can do, like maybe I’ll get my ears pierced for the first time?’ and then you know, I’ll never forget 13 now,” said Mouser.
After experiencing common symptoms of diabetes for six weeks, including headaches, feeling unwell, irritable, extremely thirsty, and the frequent urge to urinate, Mouser’s pediatrician tested and diagnosed her with type 1 diabetes.
“I didn’t have a lot of people in my life who I knew personally with type 1, so we didn’t really know what to look out for,” she said.
Now that she has lived with the condition for half her life, she is in the know.
“Obviously, diabetes in itself is complex, and it’s ever-changing, and over the years, I’ve learned a lot about my body and how to take care of it, and I’ve learned a lot about diabetes itself as an entity and how to learn about it and learn from it and change with it to the best of my ability,” Mouser said.
Learning how to thrive with type 1 diabetes
When Mouser was first diagnosed, she feared that the condition would keep her from acting. She said the mental adjustment of accepting the condition was more challenging than the physical in some ways.
“I had a very big, very intense moment of ‘holy crap, the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I don’t think I can do it with diabetes,’ and I believed that, and I was very afraid of it,” she said.
However, she proved her fears wrong. Over time, as she learned to manage the physical demands of diabetes, she also embraced the notion that she could do everything she aspired to do while living with the condition.
Finding the best treatment for her circumstances helped
For the first year after her diagnosis, Mouser used insulin injections and then turned to an insulin pump. When she was 17, she was introduced to the Tandem Diabetes Care pump while speaking to Congress about funding for diabetes research. She advocated alongside other kids with diabetes.
“It was my first experience kind of really getting to interact with…that many people who felt like my kind of people. It was really, really awesome, and that was the first time I saw someone with the Tandem pump, and I was like, ‘[that] is cool and technologically advanced,’” she said.
The touch screen and pump features drew her in, and coincidentally the pump she was using at the time was about to be discontinued. When she switched to Tandem, shortly afterward, she also integrated a constant glucose monitor (CGM), which automatically tracks blood sugar levels around the clock.
“That was the one I held off on because I was really nervous about the idea of a really big needle or what felt like a needle being in me all the time; it freaked me out. [I] like to have a lot of information about things, and then once I do, it feels far less scary,” said Mouser.
For instance, understanding the benefits of CGM, made her feel confident.
“The use of [CGM] with alerts for rapid change in glucose and for absolute glucose level helps to prevent lows associated with exercise,” said Wyne.
This feature helps Mouser on the set of Cobra Kai while she discreetly wears the device under her karate Gi and other costumes for the show.
“[It] feels like my little invisible partner alongside me, helping me to tackle what seems like sometimes a rather large beast,” said Mouser. “I just let the costume designers know ‘this is what I’ve got. You got to kind of work around it.’”
Technology like CGM has lessened the burden of living with type 1 diabetes for many patients, said Thrasher.
“Not only do they give real-time blood sugar levels, they also provide warnings if your blood sugar is predicted to significantly change in the immediate future. This allows participants to take action so they can stabilize their blood sugar and hopefully prevent bouts of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia,” he said.
Now that pumps and CGMs communicate with each other, Thrasher added that insulin pumps can make changes to insulin delivery and allow those living with type 1 diabetes to have less hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.
The practicality of them has improved, too, added Mouser.
“I [used to have] a pump that felt a lot bulkier and kind of harder to disguise, which is a lot of what I have to worry about on camera, so I would take long breaks and go back to injections and then whenever I could, I would go back on the insulin pump because it does mean a whole lot less needles,” she said.
Fighting for others with diabetes
When Mouser was in the hospital receiving her diagnosis 13 years ago, she recalled looking at a magazine with singer Nick Jonas on the cover discussing his type 1 diabetes.
“I remember being like, ‘if he can do it, then I can do it,’” she said.
Now, she hopes to be that beacon of hope for others.
“[If] I could impact just one version of me who really needed to know that you can do absolutely anything and also be type 1 diabetic and that it can make you stronger–it adds grit and bravery and strength to all the things that you do in life–that would mean the world to me,” she said.