A Second Act for a Type 1 Industry Veteran
By Miriam E. Tucker
Jay Dunigan talks about his inspiring journey from his type 1 diabetes diagnosis to becoming an actor and film producer. His new short film, "Whiskey Floats," is part of the Boston International Film Festival this month and the Orlando Film Festival in October.
For New Englander Jay Dunigan, a “startup mentality” has guided his life’s journey from a childhood diagnosis of type 1 diabetes to three decades working in the diabetes device industry, to new success as an actor and film producer.
Dunigan co-produced and co-stars in a new short film “Whiskey Floats,” premiering April 15 at the Boston International Film Festival. Set in Maine, the film centers around two old army buddies wryly discussing barriers to obtaining healthcare in America. His character, Jeff, quips that he drinks $3.99 mini-bottles of whiskey because they make him feel better, and they’re cheaper than the $800 a month his medications cost.
“The film has a lot to do with my own journey with diabetes, but it’s not about me or diabetes per se,” Dunigan told diaTribe. “It’s about two friends with healthcare needs, one with resources and the other struggling, and the choices they make every day to take care of themselves and their families.”
Dunigan’s healthcare focus began early. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10 in March 1973, when home blood glucose monitoring wasn’t yet a reality. There was only urine testing.
The summer after his diagnosis and for several years after, he attended the Elliott P. Joslin Camp for Boys with Diabetes (now called Camp Joslin) in Charlton, Massachusetts, first as a camper and later as a counselor. In the 1970s, researchers from the Joslin Clinic conducted studies of experimental glucose testing technology on the kids at camp.
After the first home glucose monitors became commercially available in the early 1980s, the camp held “vendor days” where companies displayed this brand-new technology for the parents. “I knew right then and there I needed to be involved with that,” Dunigan said.
After graduating from Merrimack College in 1985, and by then with a wife and infant son, he began working as a sales representative for one of the glucose meter manufacturers, a startup called Lifescan that was just ramping up its sales force to call on doctors’ offices and distributors. Dunigan sold the early Glucoscan products, and later the OneTouch reflectance meter.
“Glucose monitoring just blew up,” he recalled. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Dunigan spent the next 12 years with that company, which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson. In 1999, he moved to another startup called Therasense, where he worked in government affairs, professional relations, and reimbursement. “I’m not really a salesperson, but I believed so much that this technology was needed,” he says.
In 2004, Abbott Laboratories acquired Therasense for $1.2 billion. By this time, the focus had shifted to continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), and Dunigan was among that technology’s early promoters. After some shifts in management, he left the company in January 2012.
He has no regrets. “I was in glucose monitoring types of businesses for 28 years, from no market to what is now a $10-$12 billion industry,” he reflected. “I was living with diabetes every second of every day. What I bring to every job is a startup mentality, and I felt I had done what I was meant to do in that realm. But I was still young and had a lot of energy.”
Acting had been Dunigan’s hobby for some time, and he’d managed to fit in a local theater production every few years while still working in industry. As his work travel started winding down, he enrolled in an introductory class on acting for film. Then, after his severance, “I made a conscious decision to start exploring the arts.”
He began auditioning in Boston and by August 2012, was cast in the Hallmark TV movie “The Makeover,” starring Julia Stiles. More TV work followed. In December 2022, he appeared in the film “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
“I think of acting as another startup. I’m constantly working on the craft of being an actor, like I was previously in the craft of bringing new technology to market. It’s been 11 years, and I just got my first major feature film credit last Christmas. That’s about the same amount of time it takes a new device to get approved,” he joked.
“Whiskey Floats” is Dunigan’s first foray into film production. He’s hoping to place it in other film festivals after Boston. He’s also auditioning for more film parts. Most aren’t about diabetes or healthcare, but he hopes to continue to highlight those topics whenever possible.
“It’s hard work, just like sales and like managing type 1 diabetes,” he said. “That’s the journey. It takes a lot out of one, but nothing worthwhile doesn’t, right?”