An artificial pancreas means so much more to me than just a professional accomplishment
I am absolutely thrilled about this announcement, because the development of an artificial pancreas means so much more to me than just a professional accomplishment. It is very personal, as well.
For over thirty years we have lived with diabetes in the Kowalski family. In 1977, when he was just three, my brother Steve was diagnosed with type 1 and when I was 13, I, too, was diagnosed. It’s been a long road and I say we’ve lived with diabetes not just to represent Steve and me, but rather our entire family – my parents, my other siblings, our spouses and now our kids, who have endured the effects of this disease on our lives.
Thirty plus years with diabetes is a long time. As I think back there are some key events over the years that have had a profound effect on me. First and foremost have been Steve’s struggles with hypoglycemia unawareness. Low blood sugar, as we all know, is the reason why achieving and maintaining a low A1c is so difficult. Sharing a room growing up with Steve and experiencing the traumas of serious lows was what motivated me to choose a career in research. For many years, I was the “hypo alarm” in our house and the sight of a hypoglycemic seizure and someone you love being taken away in an ambulance incapacitated by low blood sugar never leaves you.
For me, I’ve been spared from hypoglycemia unawareness, but the fear of developing diabetes complications has motivated me to try to maintain good glucose control since I was diagnosed. When we were growing up, Steve and I witnessed the devastating effects of type 1 firsthand – our neighbor was completely blinded in her 20’s by diabetic retinopathy. Seeing her with her guide dog and so young was tough. Now, I have kids of my own and have lived with diabetes for over 25 years and while I’m very happy to say that I have avoided complications, I want it to stay that way! I fully expect to be there and be healthy as my kids grow up.
As some of you know, this past November I ran my first New York City marathon. What an incredible experience! The crowd was amazing and it was an incredible feeling crossing the finish line after 26.2 long miles. But, the thing I am most proud of is that three of my siblings and my sister-in-law ran it with me for JDRF. In my fundraising letter I said that I hoped to cross the finish line with my insulin pump and CGM held high. I did it! We did it! The money that we raised will help close the loop and I believe that when I run it again that pump and CGM will be controlling my glucose automatically as I try to run a personal best!
Steve and I have benefitted tremendously from continuous glucose monitors. But the beauty of an artificial pancreas will be that in the times of greatest need – such as a low at night where the CGM alarm is not as effective – there will be an automatic reaction by the system to intervene. I think of the countless seizures that we can prevent and the A1c’s that will be reduced and I just can’t wait!
I’m looking forward to providing some updates on how the artificial pancreas project is going, and getting some ideas from people with type 1 diabetes and their families about what’s most important for you. As you can tell, I’m really pumped about the APP – pun intended