RIP, original looping pump

In 2014, a lightbulb went off. We could use Ben’s code to read and write to a particular version of an old pump. We had built an algorithm to take is input carb, BG, and insulin dosing data, and to output recommendations for action. If we hooked those together, we could close the loop. We could close the loop? Cool! We should try that. But wait – I didn’t have a compatible pump..

This is another place social media played a role in the story that is #OpenAPS. I posted on Facebook asking if anyone had one of these older model pumps sitting around unused, because we wanted to use it for research and try to close the loop. Would anyone dust off the dust bunnies on one and share? The answer turned out to be yes. A very kind person sent me the pump, we put it into play, and we closed the loop. I put the pump on, and the rest is history. Yay!

A year ago, I noticed a broken piece of blue plastic on the carpet of a hotel room. “Hey, that looks like my pump color…” “!!!! A piece of my pump broke off!”. Luckily, it was the upper edge of the reservoir; it did not impact usability of the pump; I taped it back on and continued to tape it over time. I thought eventually this, or other cracks or other physical broken pieces, would be what eventually would be the cause of failure of this beloved, well-used second-generation pump.

Some history for those who don’t know the backstory: we’re talking about using older generation pumps because it was discovered that someone (if in range, and with the right equipment) could remotely command the dosing of the pump. This was discovered by a security researcher, and the FDA had the manufacturer fix this in a future version. Thus, more modern pumps you couldn’t remotely set temp basals on, or remotely bolus. Turns out, that “hole” is what enabled us to close the loop: the ability to remotely set temporary basal rates. That is a risk. Some people don’t like that risk, and choose not to DIY closed loop because they don’t want to accept that risk. That’s fine. Other people decide that the reduction in the baseline risks of diabetes due to DIY closed looping outweigh any additional risk, and with appropriate safety guards like backup alarms, hardware and software dosing limits, etc. decide to use these pumps regardless. “YDMV” (your diabetes may vary) applies to what devices and systems you choose to help you with your diabetes, too. I personally choose to use these devices to close the loop, but acknowledge not everyone wants to – and that it shouldn’t have to be this choice that drives (for some people) whether or not to DIY loop. That is why I’ve had active conversations with every pump manufacturer for going on 4 years now about the need to have secure but documented communication protocols: I would love for people (including myself) to be able to have a secure, safe in-warranty pump with which to close the loop. Now: I’m only one person. I haven’t been able to move the needle on this myself. I’ve asked and encouraged (see this visual in the OpenAPS docs) members of the community to also take up and advocate for this. And people have. But I think it’s going to take the resources of something like the JDRF Open Protocol Initiative to really get companies to finally focus on this. And hopefully this will make the infrastructure changes needed to make it possible to achieve the vision of having a secure, in-warranty modern pump (and one that comes with the ability to choose your preferred CGM and preferred closed loop algorithm, too!).

I’ve continued to cut and apply sensor tape “pump bandaids” over the last year. But something changed about a month ago: suddenly, with normal AAA battery changes of the pump, the pump started losing the time settings with every battery change. (And battery changes happen more frequently with DIY closed looping because we communicate so frequently with the pump; mine go around ~6+ days). At first I thought I was just too slow in changing the battery. But even with a lightning quick battery change, the pump would lose the settings. No big deal…except that every time it required me to reset the clock, rewind, and reprime. Which meant drops of lost insulin (ugh), and a hassle overall.

I lasted about a month before I decided to give up. Not only was the change and reset process a pain, but because the internal battery that maintains settings when you change the AAA is apparently dying, it also means that some of the history gets wiped from the pump. Again – not a big deal because I’m uploading everything from the pump to multiple places every 5 minutes, but it is still annoying. It makes it hard to skim back through the last month on the pump to analyze how much insulin I’m using on average, when every 6 days two days get blotted off the pump’s record.

@DanaMLewis switches pumpsAnd so, I threw in the towel (sadly) last night on this beautiful, long-lasting work horse of a pump that I’ve been using for 3.5+ years. I have such an emotional tie to it because it’s what enabled me to close the loop. It’s what led us to be able to share DIY closed looping with the world. And because of the reality of using (mostly*) second hand pumps for DIY closed looping, throwing the towel on a partially busted but still-kind-of-usable loopable pump feels wrong when there are lots of people who are desperately looking for pumps so they can close the loop for themselves.

* I say mostly, because there are in fact other kinds of DIY-compatible looping pumps – they’re just not approved or available in the U.S. where I live. The DANA*R or DANA*RS pumps (made by SOOIL, they have nothing to do with me!) have bluetooth capabilities built in, so they can communicate with an Android phone. They’re very popular and usable in places like Europe & Asia, where they’re in-warranty and on the market. They can be used with AndroidAPS (which uses OpenAPS’s oref0 algorithms for looping). Because of the bluetooth comms, no extra device is needed, and the phone with AndroidAPS can communicate to the pump directly. Additionally, the AndroidAPS dev team has also been working hard on evaluating other pumps, and the Roche Combo was recently established as another pump that would be compatible with AndroidAPS; again due to built-in bluetooth capabilities.

Sadly, the DANA*R(S) is not FDA approved in the US and thus not available; and the Combo pump is no longer being actively distributed by Roche in the US (even though it’s approved) – so there are fewer pump options in the U.S. right now. But again, I’m hopeful for more change and more options in the future as the pump companies begin to leverage resources from the Open Protocol Initiative.

Please don’t shame or guilt patients (some do’s and don’ts for working with patients)

I have previously written about the cost of patient participation, reflecting on some of the asks I get to be involved in various projects, conferences, etc. Since that post, I’ve been pleased with some of the asks I’ve gotten. The good ones are good: they recognize that patient time is valuable, and proactively offer to cover not only costs of travel expenses but also a reasonable honorarium or payment for my time and expertise.

The bad ones are bad, though. In some cases, really bad. Most recently, I’ve encountered asks where it feels like they are shaming me for daring to ask if participants’ expertise is being valued by providing an honorarium for their time.

There’s a lot of social nuances around ‘asking for money’ and how we value people for their time (or not). As a PI of a grant-funded project myself, I get the tradeoffs in terms of paying people for their time to contribute vs. having that money to do other project work (speaking specifically of grant-funded projects, although the same logic applies to conference & other budgets). Personally, though, I believe the right thing to do, if you’re asking for expertise that’s not already on your team (and already being paid for), is to pay for it. You’d pay a legal expert to consult on your project if there wasn’t one on your team and you needed legal expertise. If you are having others consult or provide expertise to meet one of the goals of your project, you should pay for that, too. Otherwise, you’re asking people to do things and will be spending social cash in order to get people to do things for you. If you have a bank of relationship cash, great. But, that actually limits your ability to bring in the right (or best) experts, because it assumes you already have those relationships and they’re the best people. But thinking about filter bubbles in today’s world – chances are you do not have those relationships (yet). And if these people are experts, they should be paid for their contributions toward your project.

When some of your experts are patients and others are not, it gets even tricker. You may be able to use traditional quid pro quo relationship stuff to get someone whose “day job” it is to lend their expertise to projects like yours. But for many patients, their work isn’t their “day jobs” and they’re not getting paid. As I mentioned, they’re likely having to take vacation time or unpaid leave in order to do extracurricular things. But there are other costs, too, even in the relatively simple interaction of a patient being “asked” to do things. If you’re not a patient with a chronic condition, you may not be aware of this.

One of the ongoing struggles in being a patient with a chronic condition is not just the physical elements of the condition, and dealing with the condition itself, but also the psychosocial elements, including interacting with the world about it. Many patients are self-sufficient in managing their disease, but what about when it comes to dealing with other people who they must interface with about their needs? It’s hard. I speak from personal experience, from dealing with both type 1 diabetes and celiac. Even trying to pre-organize gluten free food at conferences, and then having to hunt down 15 humans at the conference when they “forget” and have to go see what’s gluten free…it’s a lot of work, and it’s stressful.

A friend recently shared her daughter’s experience with advocating for herself at school, based on her 504 plan. (A 504 plan is where the school and family agree up front on accommodations that the student may need, related to the medical condition. For Type 1 diabetes, that can include things like the ability to reschedule a test if the night before (or the day of), the student has exceptionally high blood sugar, because this can influence concentration and cognition, as well as making a person feel really sick.) In this instance, the daughter asked to reschedule a test and communicated her needs, but felt pressured by the teacher to take the test that day. The friend ended up having to communicate with the teacher, pointing out how her daughter did the right things, but that it’s hard for a child or teen to “stand up for themselves” to an adult – especially when meeting with resistance. This is especially true when they’re advocating for their needs based on a chronic condition.

And you know what? That’s still true even as an adult. It’s hard to always have to be different. It’s hard to have to fight 24/7/365 for your needs. Dealing with the resistance you encounter daily is *hard*. (This for me is where celiac is the more frequent pain and source of frustration. I am *so* tired of doing everything “right” in pre-requesting gluten free food due to a medical condition, and there being no gluten free food, or sub-optimal options that are not nutritious (lettuce is not a meal!).  The time and energy it takes from me to deal with this takes away from my ability to participate in an event. See this thread for an example. And it happens all the time. RAR.) Sometimes it feels easier to just come up with a workaround on your own rather than rely on other people. Or to just go with the flow, and deal with the (potentially negative) outcomes of the situation. But that’s not always possible. Either way, the drain and strain of this self-advocacy adds up, and becomes exhausting.

So, back to asking for patient participation in projects/conferences/things. Asking a patient to participate requires them to respond to you. And in many cases, it involves them having to ask for money or asking clarifying questions.  Patients often meet resistance to such requests, which is itself exhausting, especially if they get lots of asks. Based on some recent experiences, I wanted to suggest some do’s/don’ts to consider if you’re looking to ask a patient to help with something. This is by no means a comprehensive list or a “do exactly this and it’s good enough, you don’t have to think about doing the right thing anymore”. But to me, it’s a bare minimum for being able to start a conversation and to be taken seriously by patients:

DO:

  • Be specific about your ask and the time commitment involved.
    • Bonus: If you don’t have an existing relationship, be specific about why you think this person is a good fit and how you found them.
    • (Ideally this means they’re not just filling a check box for “any patient will do, we just need a patient involved.”)
  • Be upfront about what benefits and payment a patient will get.

DO NOT:

  • Shame or guilt-trip patients.
    • Yes, your project/conference/etc. is a worthwhile endeavor, and patient participation would add value.  But patients help other patients all the time. For free. And there’s a limit of how much people can do, especially when it involves taking time away from where they’ve already decided to spend their time helping people. Not to mention family time, work, etc.
  • Make a vague ask.
    • If you ask for time/expertise and do not offer payment to the person for their time or articulate any other benefits to them, you’re putting them into an awkward position: they either have to accept the ask without a clear idea of the benefit of doing so, respond back with a difficult and awkward ask for money, or say no / ignore a reasonable-seeming request.
  • Try to solely tug on the heart strings of “helping”.
    • This is shaming or guilt-tripping.
  • Confuse an honorarium with covering travel expenses to physically arrive at your event.
    • Honorarium is something that should cover time. If you offer “an honorarium to cover the flight”, that’s a travel expense reimbursement or per diem, not payment for the value of their time.
  • Ask for a coffee meeting or an introductory call based on social credibility referral from a friend/colleague, and then jump straight into “picking their expertise for free”.
    • An introductory encounter should be about getting to know each other and presenting an ask to a person. (Which hey, would save time if you did it by email and were clear per the above.) Don’t mask or skip over the ask.

Again, this is by no means of an exhaustive list (and I’d love for other patients to add their take to it). It’s not meant to blame or shame anyone, but to open what I think is a much-needed conversation about legitimizing and sustaining patient participant and engagement, because it IS valuable. I’d love fellow researchers who work with patients to share their ideas and best practices for outreaching and inviting patients to collaborate with them. We all need to talk about this to change some of the widespread behaviors that make it hard for patients to be able to participate on projects, even when we *do* want to help.

meta note: Hard conversations are hard. This blog post was hard to write and publish. It makes me feel uncomfortable in the same way I do pushing back on individual asks that don’t value my contributions.  As a patient, it’s hard to push back on “the way things are” – but I know it still needs to be done, even when it’s uncomfortable.

More than 3 years of DIY closed looping with #OpenAPS

I’ve been using a DIY closed loop (OpenAPS) for 1,152 days. That’s over three years (from December 2014) of looping. That’s 1,152 nights of being able to sleep without worrying about dying in my sleep. That’s 1,152 mornings of getting to text my mom because – and when – I want to, not because it’s the thing that keeps her from worrying that I’m dead. It’s immeasurable peace of mind, in addition to the best outcomes I’ve ever had in 15 years of diabetes. And it’s gotten better since the very beginning.

Here’s where we started, and where we’ve come since then:

Here’s what hasn’t changed:

  • It is 100% do it yourself (aka, DIY). There’s no company or entity who will hand you a fully functional DIY closed loop. You get to build it yourself, which is why (among other reasons) comparing the costs of a DIY system to the cost of a potential commercial system is like apples and horseradish. But it also means you have ultimate control over your system, your algorithm, how it works, and what settings it has. There’s ultimate transparency, not just in what you’re using, but in understanding the path any feature or tool took in development from initial idea, all the way to it being a piece of code that the community is actively using. And you get to choose which pieces you use.
  • It’s driven by the spirit of paying it forward. In code and in documentation, in the interactions among the community across numerous online channels, you see incredible gratitude and appreciate sharing between members of the community. Because we can remember what it’s like to not have this technology, and we see the difference it makes. You hear stories of people succeeding at all day soccer camps or in running marathons; at school; at work; people having healthy pregnancies; and all other number of beautiful stories framed in gratitude for having technology that helps make life more about life, and less about diabetes. As Cameron said last night, “I’ve gotten use[d] to the day to day normalcy of OpenAPS, but it’s the “this is gonna be bad” and then “oh. Maybe not” that get me now. :)”

I’ve been looping for 1,152 days and I’m still blown away with appreciation for everyone in this community who codes, collaborates, documents, shares, troubleshoots, and together help us all overcome some of the many challenges in living well with diabetes. Without this community, there wouldn’t now be >500+ people worldwide accessing DIY closed loop technology. And that’s worth more to me than my own closed looping. <3

3 years of closed looping with #OpenAPS by @DanaMLewis

Quantified sickness when you have #OpenAPS and the flu

Getting “real people sick*” is the worst. And it can be terrifying when you have type 1 diabetes, and know the sickness is both likely to send your blood sugars rocketing sky high, as well as leave you exhausted and weak and that much harder to deal with a plummeting low.

*(Scott hates this term because he doesn’t like the implication that PWD’s aren’t real. We’re real, all right. But I like the phrase because it differentiates between feeling bad from blood sugar-related reasons, and the kind of sickness that anyone can get.)

In February 2014, Scott got home from a conference on Friday, and on Saturday complained about being tired with a headache. By Sunday, I started feeling weary with a sore throat. By Monday morning, I had a raging fever, chills, and the bare minimum of energy required to drag myself into the employee health clinic and get diagnosed with the flu. And since they knew I was single and lived by myself, the conversation went from “here’s your prescription for Tamiflu” to “but you can’t be by yourself, maybe we should find a bed for you in the hospital” because of how sick I was. Luckily, I called Scott and asked him to come pick me up and let me stay at his place. And there I stayed in complete misery for several days, the sickest I’d ever been. I remember at one point on the second day, waking up from a fitful doze and seeing Scott standing across the room with his laptop on a dresser, using it as a standing desk because he was so worried about me that he didn’t want to leave the room at that point. It was that bad.

Luckily, I survived. (And good thing, right, given that we went on to build OpenAPS, yes? ;)) This year’s flu experience was different. This year I was real-people sick, but without the diabetes-related fear that I’d so often experienced in the past. My blood sugars were perfectly managed by OpenAPS. I didn’t go low. It didn’t matter if I didn’t eat, or did eat (potato soup, ice cream, and frozen fruit bars were the foods of choice). My BGs stayed almost entirely in range. And because they were so in range that it was odd, I started watching the sensitivity ratio that is calculated by autosensitivity to see how my insulin sensitivity was changing over the course of the sickness. And by day 5, I finally felt good enough to share some of that data (aka, tweet). Here’s what I found from this year’s flu experience:

  • Night 1 was terrible, because I got hardly any deep sleep (45 minutes, whereas 2+h is my usual average per night) and kept waking up coughing. I also was 40% insulin resistant all night long and into Day 2, meaning it took 40% more insulin than usual to keep my BGs at target.
  • Night 2 was even worse – ZERO deep sleep. Ahhhh! It was terrible. Resistance also nudged up to 50%.
  • Night 3 – hallelujah, deep sleep returned. I ended up getting 4h53m of deep sleep, and also was able to sleep for closer to 2 hour blocks at a time, with less coughing. Also, going into night 3 was pretty much the only “high” I had of being sick – up around 180 for a few hours. Then it fell off a cliff and whooshed down to the bottom of my target, marking the drastic end of insulin resistance. After that, insulin sensitivity was fairly normal.
  • Night 4 yielded more deep sleep (>5 hours), and a tad bit of insulin sensitivity (~10%), but it’s unclear whether that’s totally sickness related or more related to the fact that I wasn’t eating much in day 3 and day 4.
  • Night 5 felt like I was going backward – 1h36m of deep sleep, tons of coughing, and interestingly a tad bit of insulin resistance (~20%) again. Night 6 (last night) I supposedly got plenty of deep sleep again (>4h), but didn’t feel like it at all due to coughing. BGs are still perfectly in range, and insulin sensitivity back to usual.

This was all done still with no-bolus, and just carb announcement when I ate whatever it was I was eating. In several cases there was negative IOB on board, but I didn’t have the usual spikes that I would normally see from that. I had 120 carbs of gluten free biscuits and gravy yesterday, and I didn’t go higher than 130mg/dl.

It’s a weird feeling to have been this sick, and have perfectly normal blood sugars. But that’s why it’s so interesting to be able to look at other data beyond average, time in range, and A1c – we now have the tools and the data to be able to dive in and really understand more about what our bodies are doing in sick situations, whether it’s norovirus or the flu.

I’m thinking if everyone shared their data from when they had the flu, or norovirus, or strep throat, or whatever – we might be able to start to analyze and detect patterns of resistance and otherwise sensitivity changes over the course of typical illness. This way, when someone gets sick with diabetes, we’d know generally “expect around XX% resistance for Days 1-3, and then expect a drop off that looks like this on Day 4”, etc.

That would be way better than the traditional ways of just bracing yourself for sky-high highs and terrible lows with no understanding or ability to make things better during illness. The peace of mind I had during the flu this year was absolutely priceless. Some people will be able to get that with DIY closed loop technology; but as with so many other things we have learned and are learning from this community, I bet we can find ways to help translate these insights to be of benefit for all people with diabetes, regardless of which therapies they have access to or decide to use.

Want to help? Been sick? Consider donating your data to my diabetes sick-day analysis project. What you should do:

  1. If you’re using a closed loop, donate your data to the OpenAPS Data Commons. You can do all your data (yay!), or just the time frame you’ve been sick. Use the “message the project owner” feature to anonymously message and share what kind of illness you had, and the dates of sickness.
  2. Not using a closed loop, but have Nightscout? Donate your data to the Nightscout Data Commons, and do the same thing: Use the “message the project owner” feature to anonymously message and share what kind of illness you had, and the dates of sickness.

As we have more people who identify batches of sick-day data, I’ll look at what insights we can find around sensitivity changes before, during, and after sickness, plus other insights we can learn from the data.

Why Open Humans is an essential part of my work to change the future of healthcare research

I’ve written about Open Humans before; both in terms of how we’re creating Data Commons there for people using Nightscout and DIY closed loops like OpenAPS to donate data for research, as well as building tools to help other researchers on the Open Humans platform. Madeleine Ball asked me to share some more about the background of the community’s work and interactions with Open Humans, along with how it will play into the Opening Pathways grant work, so here it is! This is also posted on the OpenHumans blog. Thanks, Madeleine, and Open Humans!

 

So, what do you like about Open Humans?

Health data is important to individuals, including myself, and I think it’s important that we as a society find ways to allow individuals to be able to chose when and how we share our data. Open Humans makes that very easy, and I love being able to work with the Open Humans team to create tools like the Nightscout Data Transfer uploader tool that further anonymizes data  uploads. As an individual, this makes it easy to upload my own diabetes data (continuous glucose monitoring data, insulin dosing data, food info, and other data) and share it with projects that I trust. As a researcher, and as a partner to other researchers, it makes it easy to build Data Commons projects on Open Humans to leverage data from the DIY artificial pancreas community to further healthcare research overall.

Wait, “artificial pancreas”? What’s that?

I helped build a DIY “artificial pancreas” that is really an “automated insulin delivery system”. That means a small computer & radio device that can get data from an insulin pump & continuous glucose monitor, process the data and decide what needs to be done, and send commands to adjust the insulin dosing that the insulin pump is doing. Read, write, read, rinse, repeat!

I got into this because, as a patient, I rely on my medical equipment. I want my equipment to be better, for me and everyone else. Medical equipment often isn’t perfect. “One size fits all” really doesn’t fit all. In 2013, I built a smarter alarm system for my continuous glucose monitor to make louder alarms. In 2014, with the partnership of others like Ben West who is also a passionate advocate for understanding medical devices, I “closed the loop” and built a hybrid closed loop artificial pancreas system for myself. In early 2015, we open sourced it, launching the OpenAPS movement to make this kind of technology more broadly accessible to those who wanted it.

You must be the only one who’s doing something like this

Actually, no. There are more than 400+ people worldwide using various types of DIY closed loop systems – and that’s a low estimate! It’s neat to live during a time when off the shelf hardware, existing medical devices, and open source software can be paired to improve our lives. There’s also half a dozen (or more) other DIY solutions in the diabetes community, and likely other examples (think 3D-printing prosthetics, etc.) in other types of communities, too. And there should be even more than there are – which is what I’m hoping to work on.

So what exactly is your project that’s being funded?

I created the OpenAPS Data Commons to address a few issues. First, to stop researchers from emailing and asking me for my individual data. I by no means represent all other DIY closed loopers or people with diabetes! Second, the Data Commons approach allows people to donate their data anonymously to research; since it’s anonymized, it is often IRB-exempt. It also makes this data available to people (patient researchers) who aren’t affiliated with an organization and don’t need IRB approval or anything fancy, and just need data to test new algorithm features or investigate theories.

But, not everyone implicitly knows how to do research. Many people learn research skills, but not everyone has the wherewithal and time to do so. Or maybe they don’t want to become a data science expert! For a variety of reasons, that’s why we decided to create an on-call data science and research team, that can provide support around forming research questions and working through the process of scientific discovery, as well as provide data science resources to expedite the research process. This portion of the project does focus on the diabetes community, since we have multiple Data Commons and communities of people donating data for research, as well as dozens of citizen scientists and researchers already in action (with more interested in getting involved).

What else does Open Humans have to do with it?

Since I’ve been administering the Nightscout and OpenAPS Data Commons, I’ve spent a lot of time on the Open Humans site as both a “participant” of research donating my data, as well as a “researcher” who is pulling down and using data for research (and working to get it to other researchers). I’ve been able to work closely with Madeleine and suggest the addition of a few features to make it easier to use for research and downloading large data sets from projects. I’ve also been documenting some tools I’ve created (like a complex json to csv converter; scripts to pull data from multiple OH download files and into a single file for analysis; plus writing up more details about how to work with data files coming from Nightscout into OH), also with the goal of facilitating more researchers to be able to dive in and do research without needing specific tool or technical experience.

It’s also great to work with a platform like Open Humans that allows us to share data or use data for multiple projects simultaneously. There’s no burdensome data collection or study procedures for individuals to be able to contribute to numerous research projects where their data is useful. People consent to share their data with the commons, fill out an optional survey (which will save them from having to repeat basic demographic-type information that every research project is interested in), and are done!

Are you *only* working with the diabetes community?

Not at all. The first part of our project does focus on learning best practices and lessons learned from the DIY diabetes communities, but with an eye toward creating open source toolkit and materials that will be of use to many other patient health communities. My goal is to help as many other patient health communities spark similar #WeAreNotWaiting projects in the areas that are of most use to them, based on their needs.

How can I find out more about this work?
Make sure to read our project announcement blog post if you haven’t already – it’s got some calls to action for people with diabetes; people interested in leading projects in other health communities; as well as other researchers interested in collaborating! Also, follow me on Twitter, for more posts about this work in progress!

Different ways to make a difference

tl,dr: There are many ways to make a difference, ranging from donating time/energy/ideas to financially supporting organizations who are making a difference.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes (at age 14, three months into high school – ugh), I was stunned. And I didn’t want anyone to know, because I didn’t want to be treated differently. So for the first few months, I learned how to take care of myself, and did that quietly and went about my life: school, color guard, etc. I was frustrated with the idea of having to do all this stuff for the rest of my life, and wanted as little as possible to have to talk/think about it beyond the bare minimum I had to do.

However, after I talked the Latin Club into making our fundraising dollars from the Rake-a-thon go toward the American Diabetes Association, and I saw the reaction of the local staff when I walked in and dropped a check on the desk and turned around and tried to walk out the door. (They didn’t let me just walk out!) I agreed to volunteer and do more, and it changed my life.

I don’t know what first thing I did, but I quickly came to realize that doing things for the broader population of people with diabetes – maybe they had type 2, maybe they lived somewhere else, didn’t matter – made me feel SO much better about my own life with type 1 diabetes. I wasn’t alone. And so my mantra became “Doing something for someone else is more important than anything you would do for yourself.” And it’s proved to be true for me for 14 years.

Since I grew up in Alabama, that’s where I started getting involved first. Inspired by my parents’ volunteer efforts that I saw growing up, I would volunteer my time and energy for a variety of things:

  • Fundraising for the local walk
  • Actually helping out the day of the walk
  • Joining the planning committee for the walk and spending months helping figure everything out and doing both actual and metaphorical heavy lifting to help make the event happen

Because of my volunteer efforts, I was asked to speak at a fundraising breakfast in Birmingham. It was my first time ever giving a public talk, let alone publicly talking about living with diabetes. And because of the people I met that day, I began doing more volunteer things around the state – and it led me to applying and being selected as the National Youth Advocate for the American Diabetes Association, and later serving on national committees like the National Youth Strategies committee (where we developed and improved the “Wisdom” kits for newly diagnosed kids with diabetes, created a kid-focused section of the ADA website, etc.). And my involvement continued as I graduated college and moved to Seattle, still serving on national committees but also joining the Western Washington Leadership Board and doing the same type of local event volunteering, but now in Seattle. I also have done more around advocacy over the years, beyond my time as NYA. While in college, I was asked to testify before the Senate HELP committee, talking about the need to increase funding for disease research. I’ve also participated regularly in ADA’s Call to Congress, including this year, where Scott and I paid to fly to DC and talk with our Washington state representatives and senators about the critical need for funding NIH & CDC; maintaining critical diabetes programs; and the issues around insulin affordability.

But it was when I was asked to represent the US and attend the World Diabetes Congress in 2006 when my eyes were opened to the issues around insulin access and affordability.

IDF first did a youth ambassador program in 2006, bringing around two dozen young adults with diabetes to the World Diabetes Congress to participate, train in advocacy activities, etc.

Having grown up in Alabama, where diabetes (particularly type 2) is highly prevalent, I knew that not everyone could afford pumps and CGMs (especially back then, when CGMs were brand new, way less accurate, and still super expensive, even with insurance coverage). I also knew that insulin & supplies were expensive, and some people struggled with gaining access to them. (And I always felt very fortunate that since diagnosis, my parents were able to afford my insulin & supplies.)

However, while in South Africa, I learned from my new friends from other parts of Africa and the rest of the world that this was the tippy top of the ice berg. I learned about:

  • Kids are walking alone on roads for miles and hours to get to a clinic to get a single, daily shot of insulin.
  • They may only test their BGs once a week, or month, or quarter.
  • It’s not just kids – adults would have to stop working and walk for hours, too, choosing to get insulin to stay alive to be able to work another few days to help their family survive.
  • Some people would only get insulin once a week, if that, or once a day – compared to me, where I might have several injections a day, as often as needed to keep my BGs in a safe range.

It was astonishing, saddening, maddening, and terrifying. And living so far away from this part of the world, I wasn’t sure how I could help, until I met Graham Ogle who created the “Life for a Child” program to help tackle the problem, with the vision that no child should die of diabetes. Life for a Child helps less resource-supported countries provide insulin, syringes, other supplies, and education (both for people living with diabetes and healthcare providers). And, they’re a very resource-efficient organization.

When Scott and I first met, he knew nothing about diabetes (and actually thought my insulin pump was a pager – hah!). And while I volunteered a lot of my time and energy to help organizations, he is also dedicated to finding effective ways to safe lives, and as a result, is a longtime donor to Givewell.org and some of their top charities, like Against Malaria Foundation. Givewell is a nonprofit dedicated to finding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of their analysis to help donors decide where to give. And unlike charity evaluators that focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, they conduct in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent.

Therefore, when Scott and I got married, we decided that in lieu of wedding-related gifts, we would ask people to support our charities of choice, to further increase the impact we would be able to have in addition to our own financial and other resource donations.

However, Life for a Child was not evaluated by Givewell. So Scott and I got on a Skype call with Graham Ogle to crunch through the numbers and try to come up with an idea for how effective Life for a Child is, similar to what Givewell has already done for other organizations.

For example, the Against Malaria Foundation, the recommended charity with the most transparent and straightforward impact on people’s lives, can buy and distribute an insecticide-treated bed net for about $5.  Distributing about 600-1000 such nets results in one child living who otherwise would have died, and prevents dozens of cases of malaria.  As such, donating 10% of a typical American household’s income to AMF will save the lives of 1-2 African kids *every year*.

Life for a Child seems like a fairly effective charity, spending about $200-$300/yr for each person they serve (thanks in part to in-kind donations from pharmaceutical firms). If we assume that providing insulin and other diabetes supplies to one individual (and hopefully keeping them alive) for 40 years is approximately the equivalent of preventing a death from malaria, that would mean that Life for a Child might be about half as effective as AMF, which is quite good compared to the far lower effectiveness of most charities, especially those that work in first world countries.

(And some of the other charities and organizations don’t have clear numbers that can be this clearly tracked to lives saved. It’s not to say they’re not doing good work and improving lives – they absolutely are, and we support them, too – but this is one of the most clear and measurable ways to donate money and have a known life-saving impact related to diabetes.)

I am asked fairly frequently about what organization I would recommend donating to, in terms of diabetes research or furthering the type of work we’re doing with the OpenAPS community. It’s a bit of a complicated answer, because there is no organization around or backing the OpenAPS community’s work, and there are many ways to donate to diabetes research (i.e. through bigger organizations like ADA and JDRF or directly to research projects and labs if you know of a particular research effort you want to fund in particular).

And also, I think it comes down to seeing your donation make a difference. If you’d ask Scott, he would recommend AMF or other Givewell charities – but he’s seen enough people ask me about diabetes-related donation targets to know that people are often asking us because of wanting to make a difference in the lives of people with diabetes.

So, given all the ways I’ve talked about making a difference with different volunteer efforts (and the numerous organizations with which you could do so), and the options for making a financial donation: my recommendation for the biggest life-saving effort for your dollar will be to donate to Life for a Child, to help increase the number from the 18,000 children and 46 countries they’re currently helping in. (And, they now have a US arm, so if you are in the US your donation is tax-deductible).

You may have a different organization you decide to support – and that’s great. Thank you to everyone who donates money, time, and energy to organizations who are working to make our lives better, longer, and the world in general to be a better place for us all.