Groom-To-Be Dies From Taking Cheaper Insulin To Save Money For His Wedding, Family Says

John Wilkerson was a diabetic, and when he turned 26, he aged out of his step father's private health insurance. He was unable to afford his nearly $1,200-a-month insulin. Wilkerson made $16.50 an hour supervising a dog kennel, and he was about to get married so he switched to a different kind of insulin that only cost about $25 per vial to help save money for the wedding. This switch cost him his life, his family is saying.

"It didn't work for his body," his mom, Erin Wilson-Weaver, told The Washington Post on Saturday. Her son died on June 14, he was 27.

The Virginia native had been rationing his pricey prescription before a doctor recommended taking ReliOn, an over-the-counter brand sold for $25 a vial at Walmart, according to The New York Post. Known as "human insulin," ReliOn requires more time to become effective than the "analogue" insulin that Wilkerson had previously been taking. But at one-tenth of the price, it was much more affordable for him.

"We figured: Hey, it's $25. We can do that, and we'll just work with it and try to do the best we can," Wilkerson's fiancée, Rose Walters, 27, told the Washington Post. Walters, also a Type 1 diabetic, began using the cheaper insulin as well last winter.

One conservative rebuttal to reporting on the insulin cost crisis is “but Wal-Mart sells insulin for only $25 a vial!”

But it’s an old version of insulin that’s been repeatedly shown to be less effective for Type 1 patients. This man died because of it.

— Natalie Shure (@nataliesurely) August 7, 2019

The couple — among the 30 million US residents living with diabetes — planned for a rustic barn house wedding in October, and hoped to save money for it with the more affordable medication.

"When it comes to type 1 diabetes, people are facing unthinkable decisions — between the costs of living and their very lives," Wilson-Weaver wrote on August 1 in a post for a diabetes advocacy blog.

In June, when Wilkerson was staying overnight at the kennel for a week while his boss was away, his symptoms proved fatal. On his second night sleeping there, Wilkerson and Walters were FaceTiming before bed when he complained of stomach problems but promised to take his insulin before signing off, The Washington Post reported.

Insulin Sign
A girl holds a sign that reads "Insulin Saves My Life" while Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) talks about the cost of insulin in the USA versus Canada as he joins a group of people with diabetes on a trip to Canada for affordable Insulin on July 28, 2019 in Windsor, Canada. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Later that night, Wilkerson had suffered multiple strokes and was in a diabetic coma, his blood sugar 17 times what's considered normal. "The staff at the hospital had never seen a blood glucose reading as high as Josh's before," said Weaver-Wilson on Tuesday.

The nature of this story has been shared widely across social media, especially in the wake of renewed debates on affordable healthcare in America. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders — who is running on a platform of Universal Healthcare — tweeted about Wilkerson's untimely death on Wednesday.

He said, "Let's be clear. Insulin should not cost 10 times more in the US than in Canada. Nobody should be dying because they can't afford it, but that is what is happening today."

Newsweek reached out to ReliOn for comment but did not immediately hear back.

Tragically, this is what we mean when we say the greed of the pharmaceutical industry is killing Americans.

Let's be clear. Insulin should not cost 10 times more in the US than in Canada. Nobody should be dying because they can't afford it, but that is what is happening today.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 7, 2019