Leading-Edge Tech Helps Teen With Type 1 Diabetes Live a Busy Life
November 26, 2018
Being a child or a teen with Type 1 diabetes means daily life can be complicated and at worst, dangerous.
As a longtime diabetes patient, Gabe Griswold, 16, knows this well.
If blood sugar gets too low, an uncomfortable feeling of jitteriness ensues. If it’s too high, a person with diabetes can lapse into a coma. And so many things affect blood sugar – eating, not eating, high-carb foods, exercise, and stress, to name just a few.
Gabe, who lives in Shaker Heights, was diagnosed with diabetes at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital when he was 5, so the constant yet common rigor of managing the disease has nearly always been part of his life.
“I knew I was always getting the best and most up-to-date treatment at Rainbow,” he says. “The person who helped me most is Wendy Campbell – she is an endocrinology nurse who has been around for my diabetes care for as long as I remember. She’s always inspired me to keep persisting.”
Like others with Type 1 diabetes, that meant navigating food at social events, carefully and precisely counting carbohydrates, and considering when or how long to exercise or play sports.
Checking glucose levels and dosing insulin were interwoven through Gabe’s childhood and adolescence.
“I used to have to be meticulous in counting carbs,” he says. “And if I got low blood sugar, I’d feel drowsy. My legs would feel numb, my hands would shake or my vision got blurry.
“The worst case scenario would be that in the middle of the night, while you’re sleeping, your blood sugar would get too low,” he says. “If you were awake, you’d eat or drink something like apple juice or a sugar tablet to increase your glucose. But low blood sugar wouldn’t wake you up so you couldn’t do that.”
When Gabe was first diagnosed, he had to measure his blood sugar many times a day through finger pricks, and get injections by syringe (by his parents, and eventually, on his own.) Injections are not done into a vein but the skin – often the abdomen.
“Then I went to injection pens – which were spring-loaded and less painful – and a few years ago, I started on a pump,” he says. “Wendy gave me information on new technology and she was the person who told me about this pump.”
The first pumps were great news for diabetics, but as Gabe notes, “They weren’t integrated, meaning they sent readings and data to another device that you had to carry with you.”
For the past several months, though, Gabe has been using a pump with the latest technology (including integration), the Medtronic 670G.
Now, when Gabe goes out, he can safely estimate the number of carbs in food without worrying about having low or high blood sugar later. And even when he is sleeping, he knows the pump is taking care of him.
“It sees where my blood sugar is and how it’s trending and it adjusts the basal rate for that,” he says. “When I get up in the morning, I can see exactly what happened.”
He calls the new pump a game-changer.
“It’s a huge leap,” he says. “I wear it on my body, like a runner’s pack, around my waist. It’s half the size of a phone.”
Gabe relishes his freedom. He is active in theater, and dancing – everything from hip hop to ballet.
“Sometimes in the summer, I’m rehearsing – dancing - for 8 or 9 hours a day. I couldn’t have done that as a kid, because my blood sugar would get too low,” he says.
Now he needn’t worry. The new technology lets him and other patients increase the amount of time their glucose stays in a healthy range.
Soon, Gabe will be traveling to Germany for six months as part of an educational program.
“I could never do that without this technology,” he says. “I feel much, much safer. My pump has my back.”