2022 Strawberry Fields Forever Ultramarathon Race Report Recap

I recently ran my second-ever 50k ultramarathon. This is my attempt to provide a race recap or “race report”, which in part is to help people in the future considering this race and this course. (I couldn’t find a lot of race reports investigating this race!)

It’s also an effort to provide an example of how I executed fueling, enzyme dosing (because I have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, known as EPI), and blood sugar management (because I have type 1 diabetes), because there’s also not a lot of practical guidance or examples of how people do this. A lot of it is individual, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for anyone, but if anything hopefully it will help other people feel not alone as they work to figure out what works for them!

Context of my running and training in preparation

I wrote quite a bit in this previous post about my training last year for a marathon and my first 50k. Basically, I’m slow, and I also choose to run/walk for my training and racing. This year I’ve been doing 30:60 intervals, meaning I run 30 seconds and walk 60 seconds.

Due to a combination of improved training (and having a year of training last year), as well as now having recognized I was not getting sufficient pancreatic enzymes so that I was not digesting and using the food I was eating effectively, this year has been going really well. I ended up training as far as a practice 50k about 5 weeks out from my race. I did several more mid- to high-20 mile runs as well. I also did a next-day run following my long runs, starting around 3-4 miles and eventually increasing to 8 miles the day after my 50k. The goal of these next-day runs was to practice running on tired legs.

Overall, I think this training was very effective for me. My training runs were easy paced, and I always felt like I could run more after I was done. I recovered well, and the next-day runs weren’t painful and I did not have to truncate or skip any of those planned runs. (Previous years, running always felt hard and I didn’t know what it was like to recover “well” until this year.) My paces also increased to about a minute/mile faster than last year’s easy pace. Again, that’s probably a combination of increased running overall and better digestion and recovery.

Last year I chose to run a marathon and then do a 50k while I was “trained up” for my marathon. This year, I wanted to do a 50k as a fitness assessment on the path to a 50 mile race this fall. I looked for local-ish 50k options that did not have much elevation, and found the Strawberry Fields Forever Ultra.

Why I chose this race, and the basics about this race

The Strawberry Fields Forever Ultra met most of my goal criteria, including that it was around the time that I wanted to run a 50k, so that I had almost 6 months to train and also before it got to be too hot and risked being during wildfire smoke season. (Sadly, that’s a season that now overlaps significantly with the summers here.) It’s local-ish, meaning we could drive to it, although we did spend the night before the race in the area just to save some stress the morning of the race. The race nicely started at 9am, and we drove home in the evening after the race.

The race is on a 10k (6.2 miles) looped course in North Bonneville, Washington, and hosted a 10k event (1 lap), a 50k event (5 laps), and also had 100k (10 laps) or (almost) 100 miles (16 laps). It does have a little bit of elevation – or “little” by ultramarathon standards. The site and all reports describe one hill and net 200 feet of elevation gain and loss. I didn’t love the idea of a 200 foot hill, but thought I could make do. It also describes the course as “grass and dirt” trails. You’ll see a map later where I’ve described some key points on the course, and it’s also worth noting that this course is very “crew-able”. Most people hang out at the start/finish, since it’s “just” a 10k loop and people are looping through pretty frequently. However, if you want to, either for moral or practical support, crew could walk over to various points, or my husband brought his e-bike and biked around between points on the course very easily using a mix of the other trails and actual roads nearby.

The course is well marked. Any turn had a white sign with a black arrow on it and also white arrows drawn on the ground, and there were dozens of little red/pink fluorescent flags marking the course. Any time there was a fork in the path, these flags (usually 2-3 for emphasis, which was excellent for tired brains) would guide you to the correct direction.

The nice thing about this race is it includes the 100 mile option and that has a course limit of 30 hours, which means all the other distances also have this course limit of 30 hours. That’s fantastic when a lot of 50k or 50 mile (or 100k, which is 62 miles) courses might have 12 hour or similar tighter course limits. If you wanted to have a nice long opportunity to cover the distance, with the ability to stop and rest (or nap/sleep), this is a great option for that.

With the 50k, I was aiming to match or ideally beat my time from my first 50k, recognizing that this course is harder given the terrain and hill. However, I think my fitness is higher, so beating that time even with the elevation gain seemed reasonable.

Special conditions and challenges of the 2022 Strawberry Fields Forever Ultramarathon

It’s worth noting that in 2021 there was a record abnormal heat wave due to a “heat dome” that made it 100+ degrees (F) during the race. Yikes. I read about that and I am not willing to run a race when I have not trained for that type of heat (or any heat), so I actually waited until the week before the race to officially sign up after I saw the forecast for the race. The forecast originally was 80 F, then bounced around mid 60s to mid 70s, all of which seemed doable. I wouldn’t mind some rain during the race, either, as rainy 50s and 60s is what I’ve been training in for months.

But just to make things interesting, for the 2022 event the Pacific Northwest got an “atmospheric river” that dumped inches of rain on Thursday..and Friday. Gulp. Scott and I drove down to spend the night Friday night before the race, and it was dumping hard rain. I began to worry about the mud that would be on the course before we even started the race. However, the rain finished overnight and we woke up to everything being wet, but not actively raining. It was actually fairly warm (60s), so even if it drizzled during the race it wouldn’t be chilly.

During the start of the race, the race director said we would get wet and joked (I thought) about practicing our backstroke. Then the race started, and we took off.

My race recap / race report the 2022 Strawberry Fields Forever Ultramarathon

I’ve included a picture below that I was sent a month or so before the race when I asked for a course map, and a second picture because I also asked for the elevation profile. I’ve marked with letters (A-I) points on the course that I’ll describe below for reference, and we ran counterclockwise this year so the elevation map I’ve marked with matching letters where “A” is on the right and “I” is on the left, matching how I experienced the course.

The course is slightly different in the start/finish area, but otherwise is 95% matching what we actually ran, so I didn’t bother grabbing my actual course map from my run since this one was handy and a lot cleaner than my Runkeeper-derived map of the race.

Annotated course map with points A-I
StrawberryFieldsForever-Ultra-Elevation-Profile

My Runkeeper elevation profile of the 50k (5 repeated laps) looked like this:
Runkeeper elevation profile of 5 loops on the Strawberry Fields Forever 50k course

I’ll describe my first experience through the course (Lap 1) in more detail, then a couple of thoughts about the experiences of the subsequent laps, in part to describe fueling and other choices I made.

Lap 1:

We left the start by running across the soccer field and getting on a paved path that hooked around the ballfield and then headed out a gate and up The Hill. This was the one hill I thought was on the course. I ran a little bit and passed a few people who walked on a shallower slope, then I also converted to a walk for the rest of the hill. It was the most crowded race start I’ve done, because there were so many people (150 across the 10k, 50k, 100k, and 100 miler) and such a short distance between the start and this hill. The Hill, as I thought of it, is point A on the course map.

Luckily, heading up the hill there are gorgeous purple wildflowers along the path and mountain views. At the top of the hill there are some benches at the point where we took a left turn and headed down the hill, going down the same elevation in about half a mile so it was longer than the uphill section. This downhill slope (B) was very runnable and gravel covered, whereas going up the hill was more dirt and mud.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a hairpin turn and we turned and headed back up the hill, although not all the way up, and more along a plateau in the side of the hill. The “plateau” is point C on the map. I thought it would be runnable once I got back up the initial hill, but it was mud pit after mud pit, and I would have two steps of running in between mud pits to carefully walk through. It was really frustrating. I ended up texting to my parents and Scott that it was about 1.7 miles of mud (from the uphill, and the plateau) before I got to some gravel that was more easily runnable. Woohoo for gravel! This was a nice, short downhill slope (D) before we flattened out and switched back to dirt and more mud pits.

This was the E area, although it did feel more runnable than the plateau because there were longer stretches between muddy sections.

Eventually, we saw the river and came out from the trail into a parking lot and then jogged over onto the trail that parallels the river for a while. This trail that I thought of as “River Road” (starting around point F) is just mowed grass and is between a sharp bluff drop with opening where people would be down at the river fishing, and in some cases we were running *underneath* fishing lines from the parking spots down to the river! There were a few people who would be walking back and forth from cars to the river, but in general they were all very courteous and there was no obstruction of the trail. Despite the mowed grass aspect of the trail, this stretch physically and psychologically felt easier because there were no mud pits for 90% of it. Near the end there were a few muddy areas right about the point we hopped back over into the road to connect up a gravel road for a short spurt.

This year, the race actually put a bonus aid station out here. I didn’t partake, but they had a tent up with two volunteers who were cheerful and kind to passing runners, and it looked like they had giant things of gatorade or water, bottled water, and some sugared soda. They probably had other stuff, but that’s just what I saw when passing.

After that short gravel road bit, we turned back onto a dirt trail that led us to the river. Not the big river we had been running next to, but the place where the Columbia River overflowed the trail and we had to cross it. This is what the race director meant by practicing our backstroke.

You can see a video in this tweet of how deep and far across you had to get in this river crossing (around point G, but hopefully in future years this isn’t a point of interest on the map!!)

Coming out of the river, my feet were like blocks of ice. I cheered up at the thought that I had finished the wet feet portion of the course and I’d dry off before I looped back around and hit the muddy hill and plateau again. But, sadly, just around the next curve, came a mud POND. Not a pit, a pond.

Again, ankle deep water and mud, not just once but in three different ponds all within 30 seconds or so of each other. It was really frustrating, and obviously you can’t run through them, so it slowed you down.

Then finally after the river crossing and the mud ponds, we hooked a right into a nice, forest trail that we spent about a mile and a half in (point H). It had a few muddy spots like you would normally expect to get muddy on a trail, but it wasn’t ankle deep or water filled or anything else. It was a nice relief!

Then we turned out of the forest and crossed a road and headed up one more (tiny, but it felt annoying despite how small it looks on the elevation profile) hill (point I), ran down the other side of that slope, stepped across another mud pond onto a pleasingly gravel path, and took the gravel path about .3 miles back all the way to complete the first full lap.

Phew.

I actually made pretty good time the first loop despite not knowing about all the mud or river crossing challenges. I was pleased with my time which was on track with my plan. Scott took my pack about .1 miles before I entered the start/finish area and brought it back to me refilled as I exited the start/finish area.

Lap 2:

The second lap was pretty similar. The Hill (A) felt remarkably harder after having experienced the first loop. I did try to run more of the downhill (B) as I recognized I’d make up some time from the walking climb as well as knowing I couldn’t run up the plateau or some of the mud pits along the plateau (C) as well as I had expected. I also decided running in the mud pits didn’t work, and went with the safer approach of stepping through them and then running 2 steps in between. I was a little slower this time, but still a reasonable pace for my goals.

The rest of the loop was roughly the same as the first, the mud was obnoxious, the river crossing freezing, the mud obnoxious again, and relief at running through the forest.

Scott met me at the end of the river road and biked along the short gravel section with me and went ahead so he could park his bike and take video of my second river crossing, which is the video above. I was thrilled to have video of that, because the static pictures of the river crossing didn’t feel like it did the depth and breadth of the water justice!

At the end of lap 2, Scott grabbed my pack again at the end of the loop and said he’d figured out where to meet me to give it back to me after the hill…if I wanted that. Yes, please! The bottom of the hill where you hairpin turn to go back up the plateau is the 1 mile marker point, so that means I ran the first mile of the third lap without my pack, and not having the weight of my full pack (almost 3L of water and lots of snacks and supplies: more on that pack below) was really helpful for my third time up the hill. He met me as planned at the bottom of the downhill (B) and I took my pack back which made a much nicer start to lap 3.

Lap 3:

Lap 3 for some reason I came out of the river crossing and the mud ponds feeling like I got extra mud in my right shoe. It felt gritty around the right side of my right food, and I was worried about having been running for so many hours with soaked feet. I decided to stop at a bench in the forest section and swap for dry socks. In retrospect, I wish I had stopped somewhere else, because I got swarmed by these moth/gnat/mosquito things that looked gross (dozens on my leg within a minute of sitting there) that I couldn’t brush off effectively while I was trying to remove my gaiters, untie my shoes, take my shoes off, peel my socks and bandaids and lambs wool off, put lubrication back on my toes, put more lambs wool on my toes, put the socks and shoes back on, and re-do my gaiters. Sadly, it took me 6 minutes despite me moving as fast as I could to do all of those things (this was a high/weirdly designed bench in a shack that looked like a bus stop in the middle of the woods, so it wasn’t the best way to sit, but I thought it was better than sitting on the ground).

(The bugs didn’t hurt me at the time, but two days later my dozens of bites all over my leg are red and swollen, though thankfully they only itch when they have something chafing against them.)

Anyway, I stood up and took off again and was frustrated knowing that it had taken 6 minutes and basically eaten the margin of time I had against my previous 50k time. I saw Scott about a quarter of a mile later, and I saw him right as I realized I had also somewhere lost my baggie of electrolyte pills. Argh! I didn’t have back up for those (although I had given Scott backups of everything else), so that spiked my stress levels as I was due for some electrolytes and wasn’t sure how I’d do with 3 or so more hours without them.

I gave Scott my pack and tasked him with checking my brother-in-law’s setup to see if he had spare electrolytes, while he was refilling my pack to give me in lap 4.

Lap 4:

I was pretty grumpy given the sock timing and the electrolyte mishap as I headed into lap 4. The hill still sucked, but I told myself “only one more hill after this!” and that thought cheered me up.

Scott had found two electrolyte options from my brother-in-law and brought those to me at the end of mile 1 (again, bottom of B slope) with my pack. He found two chewable and two swallow pills, so I had options for electrolytes. I chewed the first electrolyte tab as I headed up the plateau, and again talked myself through the mud pits with “only one more time through the mud pits after this!”.

I also tried overall to bounce back from the last of mile 4 where I let myself get frustrated, and try to take more advantage of the runnable parts of the course. I ran downhill (B) more than the previous laps, mostly ignoring the audio cues of my 30:60 intervals and probably running more like 45:30 or so. Similarly, the downhill gravel after the mud pits (D) I ran most of without paying attention to the audio run cues.

Scott this time also met me at the start of the river road section, and I gave him my pack again and asked him to take some things out that he had put in. He put in a bag with two pairs of replacement socks instead of just one pair of socks, and also put in an extra beef stick even though I didn’t ask for it. I asked him to remove it, and he did, but explained he had put it in just in case he didn’t find the electrolytes because it had 375g of sodium. (Sodium is primarily the electrolyte I am sensitive to and care most about). So this was actually a smart thing, although because I haven’t practiced eating larger amounts of protein and experienced enzyme dosing for it on the run, I would be pretty nervous about eating it in a race, so that made me a bit unnecessarily grumpy. Overall though, it was great to see him extra times on the course at this point, and I don’t know if he noticed how grumpy I was, but if he did he ignored it and I cheered up again knowing I only had “one more” of everything after this lap!

The other thing that helped was he biked my pack down the road to just before the river crossing, so I ran the river road section like I did lap 3 and 4 on the hill, without a pack. This gave me more energy and I found myself adding 5-10 seconds to the start of my run intervals to extend them.

The 4th river crossing was no less obnoxious and cold, but this time it and the mud ponds didn’t seem to embed grit inside my shoes, so I knew I would finish with the same pair of socks and not need another change to finish the race.

Lap 5:

I was so glad I was only running the 50k so that I only had 5 laps to do!

For the last lap, I was determined to finish strong. I thought I had a chance of making up a tiny bit of the sock change time that I had lost. I walked up the hill, but again ran more than my scheduled intervals downhill, grabbed my bag from Scott, picked my way across the mud pits for the final time (woohoo!), ran the downhill and ran a little long and more efficiently on the single track to the river road.

Scott took my pack again at the river road, and I swapped my intervals to be 30:45, since I was already running closer to that and I knew I only had 3.5 or so miles to go. I took my pack back at the end of river road and did my last-ever ice cold river crossing and mud pond extravaganza. After I left the last mud pond and turned into the forest, I switched my intervals to 30:30. I managed to keep my 30:30 intervals and stayed pretty quick – my last mile and a half was the fastest of the entire race!

I came into the finish line strong, as I had hoped to finish. Woohoo!

Overall strengths and positives from the race

Overall, running-wise I performed fairly well. I had a strong first lap and decent second lap, and I got more efficient on the laps as I went, staying focused and taking advantage of the more runnable parts of the course. I finished strong, with 30:45 intervals for over a mile and 30:30 intervals for over a mile to the finish.

Also, I didn’t quit after experiencing the river crossing and the mud ponds and the mud pits of the first lap. This wasn’t an “A” race for me or my first time at the distance, so it would’ve been really easy to quit. I probably didn’t in part because we did pay to spend the night before and drove all that way, and I didn’t want to have “wasted” Scott’s time by quitting, when I was very capable of continuing and wasn’t injured. But I’m proud of mostly the way I handled the challenges of the course, and for how I readjusted from the mental low and frustration after realizing how long my sock change took in lap 3. I’m also pleased that I didn’t get injured, given the terrain (mud, river crossing, and uneven grass to run on for most of the course). I’m also pleased and amazed I didn’t hurt my feet, cause major blisters, or have anything really happen to them after hours of wet, muddy, never-drying-off feet.

The huge positive was my fueling, electrolytes, and blood glucose management.

I started taking my electrolyte pills that have 200+mg of sodium at about 45 minutes into the race, on schedule. My snack choices also have 100-150mg of sodium, which allowed me to not take electrolyte pills as often as I would otherwise need to (or on a hotter day with more sweat – it was a damp, mid-60s day but I didn’t sweat as much as I usually do). But even with losing my electrolytes, I used two chewable 100mg sodium electrolytes instead and otherwise ended up with sufficient electrolytes. Even with ideal electrolyte supplementation, I’m very sensitive to sodium losses and am a salty sweater, and I have a distinct feeling when my electrolytes are insufficient, so not having that feeling during after the race was a big positive for me.

So was my fueling overall. The race started at 9am, and I woke up at 6am to eat my usual pre-race breakfast (a handful of pecans, plus my enzyme supplementation) so that it would both digest effectively and also be done hitting my blood sugar by the time the race started. My BGs were flat 120s or 130s when I started, which is how I like them. I took my first snack about an hour and 10 minutes into the race, which is about 15g carb (10g fat, 2g protein) of chili cheese flavored Fritos. For this, I didn’t dose any insulin as I was in range, and I took one lipase-only enzyme (which covers about 8g of fat for me) and one multi-enzyme (that covers about 6g of fat and probably over a dozen grams of protein). My second snack was an hour later, when I had a gluten free salted caramel Honey Stinger stroopwaffle (21g carb, 6 fat, 1 protein). For the stroopwaffle I ended up only taking a lipase-only pill to cover the fat, even though there’s 1g of protein. For me, I seem to be ok (or have no symptoms) from 2-3g of uncovered fat and 1-2g of uncovered protein. Anything more than that I like to dose enzymes for, although it depends on the situation. Throughout the day, I always did 1 lipase-only and 1 multi-enzyme for the Fritos, and 1 lipase-only for the stroopwaffle, and that seemed to work fine for me. I think I did a 0.3u (less than a third of the total insulin I would normally need) bolus for my stroopwaffle because I was around 150 mg/dL at the time, having risen following my un-covered Frito snack, and I thought I would need a tiny bit of insulin. This was perfect, and I came back down and flattened out. An hour and 20 minutes after that, I did another round of Fritos. An hour or so after that, a second stroopwaffle – but this time I didn’t dose any insulin for it as my BG was on a downward slope. An hour later, more Fritos. A little bit after that, I did my one single sugar-only correction (an 8g carb Airhead mini) as I was still sliding down toward 90 mg/dL, and while that’s nowhere near low, I thought my Fritos might hit a little late and I wanted to be sure I didn’t experience the feeling of a low. This was during the latter half of loop 4 when I was starting to increase my intensity, so I also knew I’d likely burn a little more glucose and it would balance out – and it did! I did one last round of Fritos during lap 5.
CGM graph during 50k ultramarathon

This all worked perfectly. I had 100% time in range between 90 and 150 mg/dL, even with 102g of “real food” carbs (15g x 4 servings of Fritos, 21g x 2 waffles), and one 8g Airhead mini, so in total I had 110g grams of carbs across ~7+ hours. This perfectly matched my needs with my run/walk moderate efforts.

BG  and carb intake plotted along CGM graph during 50k ultramarathon

I also nailed the enzymes, as during the race I didn’t have any GI-related symptoms and after the race and the next day (which is the ultimate verdict for me with EPI), no symptoms.

So it seems like my practice and testing with low carbs, Fritos, and waffles worked out well! I had a few other snacks in my pack (yogurt-covered pretzels, peanut butter pretzel nuggets), but I never thought of wanting them or wanting something different. I did plan to try to do 2 snacks per hour, but I ended up doing about 1 per hour. I probably could have tolerated more, but I wasn’t hungry, my BGs were great, and so although it wasn’t quite according to my original plan I think this was ideal for me and my effort level on race day.

The final thing I think went well was deciding on the fly after loop 2 to have Scott take my pack until after the hill (so I ran the up/downhill mile without it), and then for additional stretches along river road in laps 4 and 5. I had my pocket of my shorts packed with dozens of Airheads and mints, so I was fine in terms of blood sugar management and definitely didn’t need things for a mile at a time. I’m usually concerned about staying hydrated and having water whenever I want to sip, plus for swallowing electrolytes and enzyme pills to go with my snacks, but I think on this course with the number of points Scott could meet me (after B, at F all through G, and from I to the finish), I could have gotten away with not having my pack the whole time; having WAY less water in the pack (I definitely didn’t need to haul 3L the whole time, that was for when I might not see Scott every 2-3 laps) and only one of each snack at a time.

Areas for improvement from my race

I trained primarily on gravel or paved trails and roads, but despite the “easy” elevation profile and terrain, this was essentially my first trail ultra. I coped really well with the terrain, but the cognitive burden of all the challenges (Mud pits! River crossing! Mud ponds!) added up. I’d probably do a little more trail running and hills (although I did some) in the final weeks before the race to help condition my brain a little more.

I’ll also continue to practice fueling so I can eat more regularly than every hour to an hour and a half, even though this was the most I’ve ever eaten during a run, I did well with the quantities, and my enzyme and BG management were also A+. But I didn’t eat as much as I planned for, and I think that might’ve helped with the cognitive fatigue, too, by at least 5-10%.

I also now have the experience of a “stop” during a race, in this case to swap my socks. I’ve only run one ultra and never stopped before to do gear changes, so that experience probably was sufficient prep for future stops, although I do want to be mentally stronger/less frustrated by unanticipated problem solving stops.

Specific to this course, as mentioned above, I could’ve gotten away with less supplies – food and water – in my pack. I actually ran a Ragnar relay race with a group of fellow T1s a few years back where I finished my run segment and…no one was there to meet me. They went for Starbucks and took too long to get there, so I had to stand in the finishing chute waiting for 10-15 minutes until someone showed up to start the next run leg. Oh, and that happened in two of the three legs I ran that day. Ooof. Standing there tired, hot, with nothing to eat or drink, likely added to my already life-with-type-1-diabetes-driven-experiences of always carrying more than enough stuff. But I could’ve gotten away very comfortably with carrying 1L of water and one set of each type of snacks at a time, given that Scott could meet me at 1 mile (end of B), start (F) and end of river road (before G), and at the finish, so I would never have been more than 2-2.5 miles without a refill, and honestly he could’ve gotten to every spot on the trail barring the river crossing bit to meet me if I was really in need of something. Less weight would’ve made it easier to push a little harder along the way. Basically, I carried gear like I was running a solo 30 mile effort at a time, which was safe but not necessary given the course. If I re-ran this race, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with minimal supplies.

Surprises from my race

I crossed the finish line, stopped to get my medal, then was waiting for my brother-in-law to finish another lap (he ran the 100k: 62 miles) before Scott and I left. I sat down for 30 minutes and then walked to the car, but despite sitting for a while, I was not as stiff and sore as I expected. And getting home after a 3.5 hour car ride…again I was shocked at how minimally stiff I was walking into the house. The next morning? More surprises at how little stiff and sore I was. By day 3, I felt like I had run a normal week the week prior. So in general, I think this is reinforcement that I trained really well for the distance and my long runs up to 50k and the short to medium next day runs also likely helped. I physically recovered well, which is again part training but also probably better fueling during the race, and of course now digesting everything that I ate during and after the race with enzyme supplementation for EPI!

However, the interesting (almost negative, but mostly interesting) thing for me has been what I perceived to be adrenal-type fatigue or stress hormone fatigue. I think it’s because I was unused to focusing on challenging trail conditions for so many hours, compared to running the same length of hours on “easy” paved or gravel trails. I actually didn’t listen to an audiobook, music, or podcast for about half of the race, because I was so stimulated by the course itself. What I feel is adrenal fatigue isn’t just being physically or mentally tired but something different that I haven’t experienced before. I’m listening to my body and resting a lot, and I waited until day 4 to do my first easy, slow run with much longer walk intervals (30s run, 90s walk instead of my usual 30:60). Day 1 and 2 had a lot of fatigue and I didn’t feel like doing much, Day 3 had notable improvement on fatigue and my legs and body physically felt back to normal for me. Day 4 I ran slowly, Day 5 I stuck with walking and felt more fatigue but no physical issues, Day 6 again I chose to walk because I didn’t feel like my energy had fully returned. I’ll probably stick with easy, longer walk interval runs for the next week or two with fewer days running until I feel like my fatigue is gone.

General thoughts about ultramarathon training and effective ultra race preparation

I think preparation makes a difference in ultramarathon running. Or maybe that’s just my personality? But a lot of my goal for this race was to learn what I could about the course and the race setup, imagine and plan for the experience I wanted, plan for problem solving (blisters, fuel, enzymes, BGs, etc), and be ready and able to adapt while being aware that I’d likely be tired and mentally fatigued. Generally, any preparation I could do in terms of deciding and making plans, preparing supplies, etc would be beneficial.

Some of the preparation included making lists in the weeks prior about the supplies I’d need in my pack, what Scott should have to refill my pack, what I’d need the night and morning before since we would not be at home, and after-race supplies for the 3.5h drive home.

From the lists, the week before the race I began grouping things. I had my running pack filled and ready to go. I packed my race outfit in a gallon bag, a full set of backup clothes in another gallon bag and labeled them, along with a separate post-run outfit and flip flops for the drive home. I also included a washcloth for wiping sweat or mud off after the run, and I certainly ended up needing that! I packed an extra pair of shoes and about 4 extra pairs of socks. I also had separate baggies with bandaids of different sizes, pre-cut strips of kinesio tape for my leg and smaller patches for blisters, extra squirrel nut butter sticks for anti-chafing purposes, as well as extra lambs wool (that I lay across the top of my toes to prevent socks from rubbing when they get wet from sweat or…river crossings, plus I can use it for padding between my toes or other blister-developing spots). I had sunscreen, bug spray, sungless, rain hat, and my sunny-weather running visor that wicks away sweat. I had low BG carbs for me to put in my pockets, a backup bag for Scott to refill, and a backup to the backup. The same for my fuel stash: my backpack was packed, I packed a small baggie for Scott as well as a larger bag with 5-7 of everything I thought I might want, and also an emergency backup baggie of enzymes.

*The only thing I didn’t have was a backup baggie of electrolyte pills. Next time, I’ll add this to my list and treat them like enzymes to make sure I have a separate backup stash.

I even made a list and gave it to Scott that mapped out where key things were for during and after the race. I don’t think he had to use it, because he was only digging through the snack bag for waffles and Fritos, but I did that so I didn’t have to remember where I had put my extra socks or my spare bandaids, etc. He basically had a map of what was in each larger bag. All of this was to reduce the decision and communication because I knew I’d have decision fatigue.

This also went for post-race planning. I told Scott to encourage me to change clothes, and it was worth the energy to change so I didn’t sit in cold, wet clothes for the long drive home. I pre-made a gluten free ham and cheese quesadilla (take two tortillas, fill with shredded cheese and slices of ham, microwave, cut into quarters, stick in baggies, mark with fat/protein/carb counts, and refrigerate) so we could warm that up in the car (this is what I use) so I had something to eat on the way home that wasn’t more Fritos or waffles. I didn’t end up wanting it, but I also brought a can of beef stew with carrots and potatoes, that I generally like as a post-race or post-run meal, and a plastic container and a spoon so I could warm up the stew if I wanted it. Again, all of this pre-planned and put on the list weeks prior to the race so I didn’t forget things like the container or the spoon.

The other thing I think about a lot is practicing everything I want to do for a race during a training run. People talk about eating the same foods, wearing the same clothes, etc. I think for those of us with type 1 diabetes (or celiac, EPI, or anything else), it’s even more important. With T1D, it’s so helpful to have the experience adjusting to changing BG levels and knowing what to do when you’re dropping or low and having a snack, vs in range and having a fueling snack, or high and having a fueling snack. I had 100% TIR during this run, but I didn’t have that during all of my training runs. Sometimes I’d plateau around 180 mg/dL and be over-cautious and not bring my BGs down effectively; other times I’d overshoot and cause a drop that required extra carbs to prevent or minimize a low. Lots of practice went into making this 100% TIR day happen, and some of it was probably a bit of luck mixed in with all the practice!

But generally, practice makes it a lot easier to know what to do on the fly during a race when you’re tired, stressed, and maybe crossing an icy cold river that wasn’t supposed to be part of your course experience. All that helps you make the best possible decisions in the weirdest of situations. That’s the best you can hope for with ultrarunning!

Peer pressure during and “after” the COVID-19 pandemic, why it’s similar to living with celiac disease or food allergies, and a reminder that we usually have choices

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What the experience will be like at the venue. What the short-term risks are over the next few days. What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come.

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative?

For those of us who are reading this in 2022 or beyond, we may read the above scenario and think primarily about COVID-19 risk factors and mitigations.

But for those of us living with celiac disease (or food allergies or other significant dietary restrictions), the above scenario is one we lived with even prior to 2019 and COVID.

Here’s how this scenario could read specifically for COVID-19, with COVID-specifics bolded:

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What will the experience be like at the venue: Is it indoor or outdoor? What is the ventilation like? Is everyone in your group vaccinated and boosted? What the short-term risks are over the next few days: If you get COVID-19, how will that impact your schedule/life/childcare etc? How at risk are you for hospitalization with COVID-19? What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come: Are you concerned about “long COVID” or associated conditions? What are the risks that a COVID infection would make your personal health situation worse?

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table. You could go, but wear an N95 mask and only take off your mask to quickly eat or drink. Or you could go and mask, but not eat. Or you could bring a CO2 meter to evaluate the ventilation, and use that to decide.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different (e.g. N95 masking, and/or not eating) at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative, such as picking an outdoor venue instead of indoors, or choosing an activity that doesn’t involve close proximity and eating or drinking, such as a walk?

Now consider how this scenario could read specifically for someone with celiac disease (or food allergies or food restrictions), with those specifics bolded (in a pre-pandemic life):

Imagine that you are invited to go out to eat with a group of friends, or with colleagues at a conference.

Your mind races.

You start to think through the venue and if it’s safe for you to go. What will the experience be like at the venue: Do they have a gluten free menu? Do they indicate that they have cross-contamination practices in place for making the food gluten free? Does the menu even have food that is worth eating? What the short-term risks are over the next few days: If you get glutened and are someone who is symptomatic, how will the minutes, hours, and days following of not feeling well influence your schedule/life/childcare etc? What will you not be able to do because you won’t feel well enough? What the long-term risks are for you and your health, because what you choose to do will potentially influence your health for years to come: Some people with celiac disease aren’t symptomatic, but are causing damage even if they don’t feel it in the minutes/hours/days following. Eating gluten causes the immune system to attack the body, increasing the risk for cancer and other complications.

Maybe you shouldn’t, or don’t want to go.

Given the venue, you realize that you can make choices for yourself to make it safer for you, regardless of what anyone else does. You can choose to go, but you can also do things differently than everyone else. But there’s a cost. There’s a short term cost of being the “different” one at the table. You could go, but not eat if there’s not food worth eating or if you determine (in advance or at the restaurant) that they doesn’t have safe practices for preventing cross-contamination. You could go, but bring your own food and do your own thing.

So what do you choose? Do you cave to social pressure, and “just do what everyone else is doing”, because you think the risk of short term costs isn’t a big deal, and you don’t worry about the long-term costs to your health? Or do you decide to do something different, either not going, or doing something different (e.g. not eating, or bringing your own food) at the venue than everyone else? Or do you decide to suggest an alternative, such as recommending a different venue that has safer gluten free options, or choosing an activity that doesn’t involve eating, such as a walk?

In both a COVID-19 scenario and a scenario for someone with food allergies, food restrictions, or celiac disease, my point is that you have choices. While other people’s choices can affect you, your choices are the ones that matter most.

With celiac disease, which I’ve had for more than 13 years, I’ve personally chosen many times to not eat at places that weren’t safe for me.

I would eat a meal or snack before I go or while I’m there, or I bring food from elsewhere. Sometimes I’ve felt really awkward, but it was safer and the right choice for me to make. Sometimes it’s because I couldn’t change the venue, and the venue’s safe food was dry lettuce and dry chicken, and it just wasn’t worth eating. (Ever turned your nose up at airplane food? Same idea.) Sometimes I would bring my own food, and it’s gotten a lot easier to use a delivery service to get food from a safer (and often tastier) place. Or sometimes I couldn’t change the venue and there were supposedly safe options, but then the waiter did something that indicated it was likely not safe for me (e.g. saying “oh, just take the bread off your plate, no big deal”). That’s pretty much an automatic “do not eat here, it’s not safe” red flag being waved in my face.

It’s not fun to not get to eat or not get to do what everyone else around you is doing. I get it. Trust me, I do.

But do you know what is even LESS fun than feeling awkward? Getting glutened. Within minutes, feeling your chest tighten and getting abdominal cramps (that are like getting a “stitch in your side”, but all the way across your abdomen, and unrelenting for 30 minutes) that make you think you should go to the ER. Days of fatigue, brain fog and sore abdominal muscles. Knowing that you’ve increased the chances of tears in your small intestines and increased the risk of various types of cancers. All because of a speck of a crumb that found its way into your food.

So I make awkward choices. Sometimes I face teasing, and occasionally outright bullying, although thankfully that has been rare. And I’ve survived these choices.

I’ve gotten better over time, researching venues and making recommendations about safe places for me to eat. 99% of the time, people have zero problem going to the places I recommend. They want me to be safe and happy, they don’t really care what they eat, they’d rather have my (happy) company than to go someplace without me. (And if your  friends/colleagues/family members don’t care that much about you…maybe this will give you some food for thought.) I can’t always find safe GF options, so I also plan ahead and pack tasty snacks or food options, eat in advance, or plan to eat afterward.

And when that’s not possible, I make the choice to do the “awkward” but safe thing for me.

So in a COVID-19 or similar pandemic, I want you to know that you have choices. I’ve read a few stories from folks online who have shared regrets that they felt “peer pressure” to go eat at a conference, inside, because that’s what their friends or colleagues were doing. And they got COVID-19. Which doesn’t sound fun in the short run (being sick, getting stuck in foreign countries or strange cities, having to disrupt the lives of everyone around you, struggling to not infect your loved ones, being stuck without child care), nor the long run (risks of long COVID, or risks of additional conditions that can occur following COVID).

If you need ideas, here are some you can consider:

  • Pick an outside venue.
  • Get takeout food and go eat outside somewhere.
  • If you are inside, ensure good ventilation (sit by windows, open the windows). If you’re unsure the ventilation is good enough, you can bring a CO2 meter* to measure just how stale the air is. If you have a choice, sit somewhere quieter and further away from others, so you don’t have to yell in each other’s faces to be heard.
  • If the ventilation isn’t great, or you’re in a loud and/or crowded venue talking face to face with people who haven’t recently tested, you might want to stay masked except for when you are eating or drinking. Then put your mask back on. Limit the time you are exposed to the indoor air that everyone else’s been breathing.
  • If you are inside a poorly ventilated, loud, and/or crowded space, or otherwise consider the risks to be too high for your comfort, you can leave your N95 mask on the whole time – you don’t have to eat just because everyone else is eating unmasked!

I get it. It’s hard, it’s awkward, and peer pressure is real. But you do have choices you can make, and it gets easier when you think about your choices in advance and mitigate or decide how you’ll handle such a situation.

I hope this has given you food for thought about what choices you could make if you’re worried about such situations, and know that there are many others out there making similar choices, whether it’s because of COVID-19 or because of things like celiac disease, food allergies, or other dietary restrictions for health reasons.


Note: this is the CO2 monitor we bought (amazon affiliate link). It’s pricey, but we’ve definitely put it to use on planes and at meetings and feel like it is a worthwhile tool.

Findings from the world’s first RCT on open source AID (the CREATE trial) presented at #ADA2022

(You can also see a Twitter thread here summarizing the study results, if you are interested in sharing the study with your networks.)

TLDR: The CREATE Trial was a multi-site, open-labeled, randomized, parallel-group, 24-week superiority trial evaluating the efficacy and safety of an open-source AID system using the OpenAPS algorithm in a modified version of AndroidAPS. Our study found that across children and adults, the percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range of 3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL] was 14 percentage points higher among those who used the open-source AID system (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.2 to 18.8; P<0.001) compared to those who used sensor augmented pump therapy; a difference that corresponds to 3 hours 21 minutes more time spent in target range per day. The system did not contribute to any additional hypoglycemia. Glycemic improvements were evident within the first week and were maintained over the 24-week trial. This illustrates that all people with T1D, irrespective of their level of engagement with diabetes self-care and/or previous glycemic outcomes, stand to benefit from AID. This study concluded that open-source AID using the OpenAPS algorithm within a modified version of AndroidAPS, a widely used open-source AID solution, is efficacious and safe.

The backstory on this study

We developed the first open source AID in late 2014 and shared it with the world as OpenAPS in February 2015. It went from n=1 to (n=1)*2 and up from there. Over time, there were requests for data to help answer the question “how do you know it works (for anybody else)?”. This led to the first survey in the OpenAPS community (published here), followed by additional retrospective studies such as this one analyzing data donated by the community,  prospective studies, and even an in silico study of the algorithm. Thousands of users chose open source AID, first because there was no commercial AID, and later because open source AID such as the OpenAPS algorithm was more advanced or had interoperability features or other benefits such as quality of life improvements that they could not find in commercial AID (or because they were still restricted from being able to access or afford commercial AID options). The pile of evidence kept growing, and each study has shown safety and efficacy matching or surpassing commercial AID systems (such as in this study), yet still, there was always the “but there’s no RCT showing safety!” response.

After Martin de Bock saw me present about OpenAPS and open source AID at ADA Scientific Sessions in 2018, we literally spent an evening at the dinner table drawing the OpenAPS algorithm on a napkin at the table to illustrate how OpenAPS works in fine grained detail (as much as one can do on napkin drawings!) and dreamed up the idea of an RCT in New Zealand to study the open source AID system so many were using. We sought and were granted funding by New Zealand’s Health Research Council, published our protocol, and commenced the study.

This is my high level summary of the study and some significant aspects of it.

Study Design:

This study was a 24-week, multi-centre randomized controlled trial in children (7–15 years) and adults (16–70 years) with type 1 diabetes comparing open-source AID (using the OpenAPS algorithm within a version of AndroidAPS implemented in a smartphone with the DANA-i™ insulin pump and Dexcom G6® CGM), to sensor augmented pump therapy. The primary outcome was change in the percent of time in target sensor glucose range (3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL]) from run-in to the last two weeks of the randomized controlled trial.

  • This is a LONG study, designed to look for rare adverse events.
  • This study used the OpenAPS algorithm within a modified version of AndroidAPS, meaning the learning objectives were adapted for the purpose of the study. Participants spent at least 72 hours in “predictive low glucose suspend mode” (known as PLGM), which corrects for hypoglycemia but not hyperglycemia, before proceeding to the next stage of closed loop which also then corrected for hyperglycemia.
  • The full feature set of OpenAPS and AndroidAPS, including “supermicroboluses” (SMB) were able to be used by participants throughout the study.

Results:

Ninety-seven participants (48 children and 49 adults) were randomized.

Among adults, mean time in range (±SD) at study end was 74.5±11.9% using AID (Δ+ 9.6±11.8% from run-in; P<0.001) with 68% achieving a time in range of >70%.

Among children, mean time in range at study end was 67.5±11.5% (Δ+ 9.9±14.9% from run-in; P<0.001) with 50% achieving a time in range of >70%.

Mean time in range at study end for the control arm was 56.5±14.2% and 52.5±17.5% for adults and children respectively, with no improvement from run-in. No severe hypoglycemic or DKA events occurred in either arm. Two participants (one adult and one child) withdrew from AID due to frustrations with hardware issues.

  • The pump used in the study initially had an issue with the battery, and there were lots of pumps that needed refurbishment at the start of the study.
  • Aside from these pump issues, and standard pump site/cannula issues throughout the study (that are not unique to AID), there were no adverse events reported related to the algorithm or automated insulin delivery.
  • Only two participants withdrew from AID, due to frustration with pump hardware.
  • No severe hypoglycemia or DKA events occurred in either study arm!
  • In fact, use of open source AID improved time in range without causing additional hypoglycemia, which has long been a concern of critics of open source (and all types of) AID.
  • Time spent in ‘level 1’ and ‘level 2’ hyperglycemia was significantly lower in the AID group as well compared to the control group.

In the primary analysis, the mean (±SD) percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range (3.9 – 10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL]) increased from 61.2±12.3% during run-in to 71.2±12.1% during the final 2-weeks of the trial in the AID group and decreased from 57.7±14.3% to 54±16% in the control group, with a mean adjusted difference (AID minus control at end of study) of 14.0 percentage points (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.2 to 18.8; P<0.001). No age interaction was detected, which suggests that adults and children benefited from AID similarly.

  • The CREATE study found that across children and adults, the percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range of 3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL] was 14.0 percentage points higher among those who used the open-source AID system compared to those who used sensor augmented pump therapy.
  • This difference reflects 3 hours 21 minutes more time spent in target range per day!
  • For children AID users, they spent 3 hours 1 minute more time in target range daily (95% CI, 1h 22m to 4h 41m).
  • For adult AID users, they spent 3 hours 41 minutes more time in target range daily (95% CI, 2h 4m to 5h 18m).
  • Glycemic improvements were evident within the first week and were maintained over the 24-week trial. Meaning: things got better quickly and stayed so through the entire 24-week time period of the trial!
  • AID was most effective at night.
Difference between control and AID arms overall, and during day and night separately, of TIR for overall, adults, and kids

One thing I think is worth making note of is that one criticism of previous studies with open source AID is regarding the self-selection effect. There is the theory that people do better with open source AID because of self-selection and self-motivation. However, the CREATE study recruited a diverse cohort of participants, and the study findings (as described above) match all previous reports of safety and efficacy outcomes from previous studies. The CREATE study also found that the greatest improvements in TIR were seen in participants with lowest TIR at baseline. This means one major finding of the CREATE study is that all people with T1D, irrespective of their level of engagement with diabetes self-care and/or previous glycemic outcomes, stand to benefit from AID.

This therefore means there should be NO gatekeeping by healthcare providers or the healthcare system to restrict AID technology from people with insulin-requiring diabetes, regardless of their outcomes or experiences with previous diabetes treatment modalities.

There is also no age effect observed in the trail, meaning that the results of the CREATE Trial demonstrated that open-source AID is safe and effective in children and adults with type 1 diabetes. If someone wants to use open source AID, they would likely benefit, regardless of age or past diabetes experiences. If they don’t want to use open source AID or commercial AID…they don’t have to! But the choice should 100% be theirs.

In summary:

  • The CREATE trial was the first RCT to look at open source AID, after years of interest in such a study to complement the dozens of other studies evaluating open source AID.
  • The conclusion of the CREATE trial is that open-source AID using the OpenAPS algorithm within a version of AndroidAPS, a widely used open-source AID solution, appears safe and effective.
  • The CREATE trial found that across children and adults, the percentage of time that the glucose level was in the target range of 3.9-10mmol/L [70-180mg/dL] was 14.0 percentage points higher among those who used the open-source AID system compared to those who used sensor augmented pump therapy; a difference that reflects 3 hours 21 minutes more time spent in target range per day.
  • The study recruited a diverse cohort, yet still produced glycemic outcomes consistent with existing open-source AID literature, and that compare favorably to commercially available AID systems. Therefore, the CREATE Trial indicates that a range of people with type 1 diabetes might benefit from open-source AID solutions.

Huge thanks to each and every participant and their families for their contributions to this study! And ditto, big thanks to the amazing, multidisciplinary CREATE study team for their work on this study.

Note that the continuation phase study results are slated to be presented this fall at another conference!

Findings from the RCT on open source AID, the CREATE Trial, presented at #ADA2022

What You Should Know About Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) or Pancreatic Exocrine Insufficiency (PEI)

I have a new part-time job as a pancreas, but this time, I don’t have any robot parts I can make to help.

This is a joke, because I have had type 1 diabetes for 19+ years and 7 years ago I helped make the world’s first open-source artificial pancreas, also known as an automated insulin delivery system, that we jokingly call my “robot parts” and takes care of 90+% of the work of living with type 1 diabetes. PS if you’re looking for more information, there’s a book for that, or a free 3 minute animated video explaining automated insulin delivery. 

The TL;DR of this post is that I have discovered I have a mild or moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, known as EPI (or PEI, pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, depending on which order and acronym you like). There’s a treatment called pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) which I have been trying.

It took a long time for me to get diagnosed (almost 2 years), so this post walks through my history and testing process with my gastroenterologist (GI doctor) and the importance of knowing your own body and advocating for yourself when something is wrong or not quite right.

Background

About six years after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was doing a summer internship in Washington, D.C. (away from home) and started getting chest tightness and frequent abdominal pain. Sometimes it felt like my abdominal muscles were “knitting” into each other. Because I had type 1 diabetes, I had heard at one point that about 10% of people with type 1 also develop celiac disease. So, thankfully, it was as simple as calling my endocrinologist and scheduling testing, and getting an endoscopy and biopsy to confirm I had celiac disease. It took about 2 months, and the timing was mostly that long due to getting back to Alabama after my internship and the testing schedule of the hospital. This is relevant detail, because I later read that it takes an average of 7 years for most people to get diagnosed with celiac disease. That has been floating around in my brain now for over a decade, this awareness that GI stuff is notoriously hard to diagnose when you’re not lucky enough to have a clear idea, like I did, of an associated condition.

So, with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, I use automated insulin delivery to get great outcomes for my diabetes and a 100% very careful gluten-free diet to manage my celiac disease, and have not had any GI problems ever since I went gluten-free.

Until January/February 2020, when I took an antibiotic (necessary for an infection I had) and started to get very minor GI side effects on day 5 of the 7-day antibiotic course. Because this antibiotic came with a huge warning about C. diff, and I really didn’t want C. diff, I discontinued the antibiotic. My infection healed successfully, but the disruption to my GI system continued. It wasn’t C. diff and didn’t match any of the C. diff symptoms, but I really lost my appetite for a month and didn’t want to eat, so I lost 10 pounds in February 2020. On the one hand, I could afford to lose the weight, but it wasn’t healthy because all I could bring myself to eat was one yogurt a day. I eventually decided to try eating some pecans to add fiber to my diet, and that fiber and change in diet helped me get back to eating more in March 2020, although I generally was eating pecans and dried cranberries (to increase my fiber intake) for breakfast and wasn’t hungry until late afternoon or early evening for another meal. So, since my body didn’t seem to want anything else, I essentially was eating two meals a day. My GI symptoms were better: not back to how they were before February 2020, but seemed manageable.

However, in July 2020, one night I woke up with incredibly painful stabbing abdominal pain and thought I would need to go to the ER. Thankfully, it resolved enough within minutes for me to go back to sleep, but that was scary. I decided to schedule an appointment with my gastroenterologist. I took in a record of my symptoms and timing and explained what was most worrisome to me (sudden stabbing pains after I ate or overnight, not seemingly associated with one particular type of food; changes in bathroom habits, like steatorrhea, but not as severe as diarrhea). He made a list of suspected things and we began testing: we checked for C. diff (nope), parasites (nope), bloodwork for inflammation (nope, so no Crohn’s or IBS or IBD), my celiac markers to make sure I wasn’t being accidentally glutened (nope: 100% gluten-free as proven by the blood work), H. pylori (nope), and did a CT scan to check for structural abnormalities (all good, again no signs of inflammation or any obvious issues).

Because all of this happened during the global COVID-19 pandemic, I was cautious about scheduling any in-person tests such as the CT scan or the last test on my list, a colonoscopy and endoscopy. I have a double family history of colon cancer, so although it was extremely unlikely, given everything else on the list was coming back as negative, it needed to be done. I waited until I was fully vaccinated (e.g. 2 weeks after 2 shots completed) to have my colonoscopy and endoscopy scheduled. The endoscopy was to check for celiac-related damage in my small intestine since I hadn’t had an endoscopy since my diagnosis with celiac over a decade ago. Thankfully, there’s no damage from celiac (I wasn’t expecting there to be any damage, but is a nice confirmation of my 100% very careful gluten free diet!), and the colonoscopy also came back clear.

Which was good, but also bad, because…SOMETHING was causing all of my symptoms and we still didn’t know what that was. The last thing on my doctor’s list was potentially small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), but the testing is notoriously non-specific, and he left it up to me as to whether I decided to treat it or not. Having run out of things to test, I decided to do a two-week course of an antibiotic to target the bacteria. It helped for about two weeks, and then my symptoms came back with a vengeance. However, I had realized in spring 2021 (after about 9 months of feeling bad) that sometimes the stabbing abdominal pain happened when I ate things with obvious onion or garlic ingredients, so January-July 2021 I had avoided onion and garlic and saw a tiny bit of improvement (but nowhere near my old normal). Because of my research on onion and garlic intolerances, and then additional research looking into GI things, I realized that the low FODMAP diet which is typically prescribed for IBS/IBD (which I don’t have) could be something I could try without a lot of risk: if it helped, that would be an improvement, regardless of whatever I actually had.

So in August 2021, as noted in this blog post, I began the low FODMAP diet first starting with a careful elimination phase followed by testing and adding foods back into my diet. It helped, but over time I’ve realized that I still get symptoms (such as extreme quantities of gas, abdominal discomfort and distention, changed bathroom habits) even when I’m eating low FODMAP. It’s possible low FODMAP itself helped by avoiding certain types of food, but it’s also possible that it was helping because I was being so careful about the portions and timing of when I was eating, to avoid “stacking” FODMAPs.

One other thing I had tried, as I realized my onion and garlic intolerance was likely tied to being “fructans”, and that I had discovered I was sensitive to fructans in other foods, was an enzyme powder called Fodzyme. (I have no affiliation with this company, FYI). The powder works to target the FODMAPs in food to help neutralize them so they don’t cause symptoms. It worked for me on the foods I had experimented with, and it allowed me to eat food that had onion powder or garlic powder listed as a minor ingredient (I started small and cautious and am working my way up in testing other foods and different quantities). I longingly wished that there were other enzymes I could take to help improve digestion, because Fodzyme seemed to not only reduce the symptoms I had after I ate, but also seemed to improve my digestion overall (e.g. improved stool formation). I did some research but “digestive enzymes” are generally looked down upon and there’s no good medical research, so I chalked it up to snake oil and didn’t do anything about it.

Until, oddly enough, in November 2021 I noticed a friend’s social media post talking about their dog being diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). It made me go look up EPI in humans to see if it was a thing, because their experience sounded a lot like mine. Turns out, EPI is a thing, and it’s very common in humans who have cystic fibrosis; pancreas-related surgeries or pancreatic cancer; and there is also a known correlation with people with type 1 diabetes or with celiac disease.

Oh hey, that’s me (celiac and type 1 diabetes).

I did more research and found that various studies estimate 40% of people with type 1 diabetes have low levels of pancreatic elastase, which is a proxy for determining if you have insufficient enzymes being produced by your pancreas to help you digest your food. The causal mechanism is unclear, so they don’t know whether it’s just a ‘complication’ and side effect of diabetes and the pancreas no longer producing insulin, or if there is something else going on.

Given the ties to diabetes and celiac, I reached out to my GI doctor again in December 2021 and asked if I should get my pancreatic elastase levels tested to check for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), given that my symptoms matching the textbook definition and my risk factors of diabetes and celiac. He said sure, sent in the lab request, and I got the lab work done. My results are on the borderline of ‘moderate’ insufficiency, and given my very obvious and long-standing symptoms, and given my GI doc said there would be no harm from trying, I start taking pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (called PERT). Basically, this means I swallow a pill that contains enzymes with the first bite of food that I eat, and the enzymes help me better digest the food I am eating.

And guess what? For me, it works and definitely has helped reduce symptoms after I’m eating and with next-day bathroom habits. So I consider myself to have mild or moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

(Also, while I was waiting on my test results to come back, I found that there is a lipase-only version of digestive enzymes available to purchase online, so I got some lipase and began taking it. It involves some titration to figure out how much I needed, but I saw some improvement already from low doses of lipase, so that also led me to want to try PERT, which contains all 3 types of enzymes your pancreas normally naturally produces, even though my elastase levels were on the borderline of ‘moderate’ insufficiency. Not everyone with lower levels of elastase has insufficiency in enzymes, but my symptoms and response to lipase and PERT point to the fact that I personally do have some insufficiency.)

More about my experiences with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

Unfortunately, there is no cure for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Like Type 1 diabetes, it requires lifelong treatment. So, I will be taking insulin and now PERT likely for the rest of my life. Lazy pancreas! (Also, it’s possible I will need to increase my PERT dose over time if my insufficiency increases.)

Why treat EPI? Well, beyond managing very annoying symptoms that impact quality of life, if left untreated it’s associated with increased mortality (e.g. dying earlier than you would otherwise) due to malnutrition (because you’re not properly absorbing the nutrients in the food you’re eating) and bone density problems.

Oddly enough, there seem to be two versions of the name (and therefore two acronyms) for the same thing: EPI and PEI, meaning exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. I haven’t found a good explanation for why there are two names and if there are any differences. Luckily, my research into the medical literature shows they both pop up in search results pretty consistently, so it’s not like you end up missing a big body of literature if you use one search term or the other.

Interestingly, I learned 90% of people with cystic fibrosis may need PERT, and thankfully my friend with CF didn’t mind me reaching out to ask her if she had ever taken PERT or had any tips to give me from her knowledge of the CF community. That was nice that it turns out I do know some other people with EPI/PEI, even though they don’t usually talk about it because it seems to go hand in hand with CF. Some of the best resources of basic information about EPI/PEI are written either by CF foundations or by pancreatic cancer-related organizations, because those are the two biggest associated conditions that also link to EPI/PEI. There are also other conditions like diabetes and celiac with strong correlations, but these communities don’t seem to talk about it or have resources focused on it. (As with low FODMAP resources where everything is written for IBS/IBD, you can extrapolate and ignore everything that’s IBS/IBD specific. Don’t be afraid to read EPI/PEI information from communities that aren’t your primary community!)

Sadly, like so many GI conditions (remember in the intro I referenced 7 years average diagnosis time with celiac), it seems ridiculously hard to get to a diagnosis of EPI. I essentially self-diagnosed myself (and confirmed the diagnosis in partnership with my GI doc who agreed to run the tests). I am still very surprised that it never came up on his list of possible conditions despite having symptoms that are textbook EPI and having diabetes and celiac, which are known correlations. Apparently, this is common: I read one study that says even people with super high-risk factors (e.g. pancreas surgery, pancreatic cancer) aren’t necessarily screened, either! So it’s not just me falling through the cracks, and this is something the gastroenterology world needs to be better about. It’s also common for patients to bring this up to their doctors vs their doctors suggesting it as a potential diagnosis – this study found 24% of people brought up EPI, like I did, to their doctors.

Also, unfortunately, I had a few people (including family members) suggest to me in the last two years that my symptoms are psychosomatic, or stress-related. They’re clearly, as proven by lab work, not psychosomatic or stress-related but are a result of my exocrine pancreatic functions failing. Please, don’t ever suggest someone dealing with GI issues is experiencing symptoms due to stress – this is the kind of comment you should keep to yourself. (The last time someone mentioned this to me was months ago, and it still bothers me to think about it.)

Advocate for yourself

One of the very important things I learned early on when living with type 1 diabetes was the importance of knowing my own body, and advocating for myself. This unfortunately was a hard lesson learned, because I had general practice (GP or primary care / PCP) doctors who would refuse to treat me because I had diabetes because they were concerned about prescribing something that would mess up my blood sugars. They’d completely ignore the point that whatever infection I had would cause MORE disruption to my blood sugars by having me be sick and suffer longer, than I would have disruption to my blood sugar levels from a prescription. Sigh. So for the last almost two decades, I have had to go into every health encounter prepared to advocate for myself and make sure I get the medical expertise for whatever I’m there for, and not the less experienced take on diabetes (assuming I wasn’t there for diabetes, which I usually wasn’t).

This has translated into how I approached finding solutions for my GI symptoms. Per my history described above, I had increasing but minor GI symptoms from February-July 2020. Having new, stabbing pains in my abdomen led me to the gastroenterologist for a long list of testing for various things, but I had to continue to push for the next round of testing and schedule and manage everything to proceed through the list we had discussed at my appointment. Later, after we ran through the list, I had to try things like low FODMAP for myself, and then do additional research and identify the test for EPI as a likely next step to try.

I felt a little like the ‘boiling frog’ analogy, where my symptoms gradually worsened over time, but they weren’t startling bad (except for the points in time when I had stabbing abdominal pain). Or the two times, almost one year apart (Oct 2020 and Dec 2021) where I had what I considered bad “flares” of something where I got really hot and feeling really ill all of a sudden, but it wasn’t COVID-19 and it wasn’t anything specific causing it, there were no obvious food triggers, and the only thing I could do was lay down for 2-3 hours and rest before I started to feel better. Those were probably correlated with “overdoing it” with physical activity, but I’ve also run a marathon and a 50k ultramarathon in the last year and didn’t have problems on those days, so there’s not a certain threshold of activity that appears to cause that. Thankfully, that has only happened two times.

Other than those scenarios, it wasn’t like breaking my ankle where there was a clear “everything was fine and now something is broken”, but it was more like “I have had not-good-digestion and various increasing GI symptoms that don’t fit any clear problem or diagnosis on our shortlist of the 5 likely things it might be. It’s not excruciating but it is increasingly impacting my quality of life, and twisting myself into a pretzel with an evolving pattern of dietary modifications is not solving it”. It took me continuing to advocate for myself and not accepting suffering for the rest of my life (hopefully!) with these symptoms to get to an answer, which for me, so far, seems to be moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

What it’s like to start taking pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)

PERT is typically measured by the units/amount of lipase it contains, even though it contains all 3 types of enzymes. (Some of the Medicare documents in different states actually are really helpful for comparing the size of dosing across the different brands of PERT. That also helped me look up the various brands in my insurance plan to see whether there would be a price difference between two of the most common brands.) Depending on symptoms and your level of insufficiency, like insulin, it requires some titration to figure out the right doses. I’ve been attempting to track generally the amount of fat that I’m eating to try to get a sense of my “ratio” of fat to lipase needed, although the research shows there is likely not a linear correlation between grams of fat and units of lipase needed. Another way to think about it is at what level of grams of fat in your meal do you need more than your current dose. For example, one pill of PERT at my current dose seems to work up to around 70 or so grams of fat per meal, as long as it doesn’t have more than 50% protein. Meals containing much more fat (120 g or so) definitely require more, as do meals with either a higher quantity of protein or a closer ratio of 1:1 fat to protein.

Different people have different needs with regard to whether they need enzyme support “just” for fat, or also for protein and carbs. I appear to at least need some support for carbs as well as protein, but am still establishing at what levels I need which dosing of which enzymes.

Personally, I am tracking to see whether my symptoms are reduced or eliminated in the hours following my meals (gas, abdominal discomfort, a sick feeling after eating) as well as the next day (bloating/abdominal distension, bathroom habits such as reduced steatorrhea), and overall whether I have any more of those really bad “flares”. My initial tests of taking PERT show improvements after my meals (I don’t feel sick after I eat anymore!) and often the next day.

After the first few days of trying food that was low FODMAP but giving me minor symptoms before PERT, I’ve also felt confident enough to try meals that I’ve avoided eating for over a year, such as a gluten free burger from one of our nearby local favorites! Even though it’s been well over a year since I’ve had it last, I immediately could tell a difference in how I felt eating it, due to taking PERT with it. There was no wave of fatigue before I was halfway through the burger, and no gas or feeling sick to my stomach after eating. I had clearly forgotten what it was like to not feel miserable after eating and to actually enjoy eating food! So far, PERT has been exceeding my expectations (although those were rather low).

It makes it slightly less annoying, then, to think about the price of PERT. Roughly, one month of PERT at the dosage I’m currently on costs the same as 3 vials of insulin in the US (in the ballpark of $800). Like insulin, PERT is necessary and worthwhile (and thankfully I do have health insurance).

Pancreases are great when they work…and expensive to replace!

A play on the spiderman meme of two spiderman's pointing at each other, indicating similar things. Labeled "exocrine pancreatic functions" and "endocrine pancreatic functions", indicating both of mine are not working as they should be.

TLDR: I have a new thing, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, to deal with. Thankfully, there’s a treatment (PERT) that I can use to reduce symptoms and hopefully limit the potential impacts on morbidity long term. If you have diabetes or celiac and you have unexplained GI symptoms over time, you might want to do some research into EPI and discuss it with your gastroenterologist.

Also…for any endocrinologist reading this…or any other healthcare providers…if you have patients with diabetes and suspected GI issues, please consider EPI as a possible diagnosis once you’ve ruled out celiac disease and other likely suspects. Given the high rates of lowered elastase in all types of diabetes, it’s worth screening for EPI in patients with otherwise-unexplained steatorrhea or similar symptoms.

Automated Insulin Delivery: How artificial pancreas “closed loop” systems can aid you in living with diabetes (introducing “the APS book” by @DanaMLewis)

Tl;dr – I wrote a book about artificial pancreas systems / hybrid and fully closed loop systems / automated insulin delivery systems! It’s out today – you can buy a print copy on Amazon; a Kindle copy on Amazon; check out all the content on the web or your phone here; or download a PDF if you prefer.

A few months ago, I saw someone share a link to one of my old blog posts with someone else on Facebook. Quite old in fact – I had written it 5+ years ago! But the content was and is still relevant today.

It made me wonder – how could we as a diabetes community, who have been innovating and exploring new diabetes technology such as closed loop/artificial pancreas systems (APS), package up some of this knowledge and share it with people who are newer to APS? And while yes, much of this is tucked into the documentation for DIY closed loop systems, not everyone will choose a DIY closed loop system and also therefore may not see or find this information. And with regards to some of the things I’ve written here on DIYPS.org, not everyone will be lucky enough to have the right combination of search terms to end up on a particular post to answer their question.

Automated_Insulin_Delivery_by_DanaMLewis_example_covers_renderingThus, the idea for a book was born. I wanted to take much of what I’ve been writing here, sharing on Facebook and Twitter, and seeing others discuss as well, and put it together in one place to be a good starting place for someone to learn about APS in general. My hope is that it’s more accessible for people who don’t know what “DIY” or “open source” diabetes is, and it’s findable by people who also don’t know or don’t consider themselves to be part of the “diabetes online community”.

APSBook_NowAvailable_DanaMLewisIs it perfect? Absolutely not! But, like most of the things in the DIY community…the book is open source. Seriously. Here’s the repository on Github! If you see a typo or have suggestions of content to add, you can make a PR (pull request) or log an issue with content recommendations. (There’s instructions on the book page here with how to do either of those things!) I plan to make rolling updates to it, so you can see on the change log page what’s changed between major versions.)

It’s the first book out there that I know of on APS, but it won’t be the only one. I hope this inspires or moves more people to share their knowledge, through blogs or podcasts or future books, with the rest of our community and loved ones who want and need to learn more about managing type 1 diabetes.

“I will immediately recommend this book not just to people looking to use a DIY closed loop system, but also to anybody looking to improve their grasp on the management of type 1 diabetes, whether patient, caregiver, or healthcare provider.”

Aaron Neinstein, MD
Endocrinologist, UCSF

And as always, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned about the self-publishing process, too. I previously used CreateSpace for my children’s books, which got merged with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and there was a learning curve for KDP for both doing the print version and doing the Kindle version. I didn’t get paid to write this book – and I didn’t write it for a profit. Like my children’s books, I plan to use any proceeds to donate copies to libraries and hospitals, and send any remaining funds to Life For A Child to help ensure as many kids as possible have access to insulin, BG monitoring supplies, and education.

I’m incredibly grateful for many people for helping out with and contributing to this book. You can see the full acknowledgement section with my immense thanks to the many reviewers of early versions of the book! And ditto for the people who shared their stories and experiences with APS. But special thanks go in particular to Scott for thorough first editing and overall support of every project I bring up out of the blue; to Tim Gunn for beautiful cover design of the book; and to Aaron Kowalski to be kind enough to write this amazing foreword.

Amazon_Button_APSBook_DanaMLewis

Presentations and poster content from @DanaMLewis at #ADA2019

Like I did last year, I want to share the work being presented at #ADA2019 with those who are not physically there! (And if you’re presenting at #ADA2019 or another conference and would like suggestions on how to share your content in addition to your poster or presentation, check out these tips.) This year, I’m co-author on three posters and an oral presentation.

  • 1056-P in category 12-D Clinical Therapeutics/New Technology–Insulin Delivery Systems, Preliminary Characterization of Rhythmic Glucose Variability In Individuals With Type 1 Diabetes, co-authored by Dana Lewis and Azure Grant.
    • Come see us at the poster session, 12-1pm on Sunday! Dana & Azure will be presenting this poster.
  • 76-OR, In-Depth Review of Glycemic Control and Glycemic Variability in People with Type 1 Diabetes Using Open Source Artificial Pancreas Systems, co-authored by Andreas Melmer, Thomas Züger, Dana Lewis, Scott Leibrand, Christoph Stettler, and Markus Laimer.
    • Come hear our presentation in room S-157 (South, Upper Mezzanine Level), 2:15-2:30 pm on Saturday!
  • 117-LB, DIWHY: Factors Influencing Motivation, Barriers and Duration of DIY Artificial Pancreas System Use Among Real-World Users, co-authored by Katarina Braune, Shane O’Donnell, Bryan Cleal, Ingrid Willaing, Adrian Tappe, Dana Lewis, Bastian Hauck, Renza Scibilia, Elizabeth Rowley, Winne Ko, Geraldine Doyle, Tahar Kechadi, Timothy C. Skinner, Klemens Raille, and the OPEN consortium.
    • Come see us at the poster session, 12-1pm on Sunday! Scott will be presenting this poster.
  • 78-LB, Detailing the Lived Experiences of People with Diabetes Using Do-it-Yourself Artificial Pancreas Systems – Qualitative Analysis of Responses to Open-Ended Items in an International Survey, co-authored by Bryan Cleal, Shane O’Donnell, Katarina Braune, Dana Lewis, Timothy C. Skinner, Bastian Hauck, Klemens Raille, and the OPEN consortium.
    • Come see us at the poster session, 12-1pm on Sunday! Bryan Cleal will be presenting this poster.

See below for full written summaries and pictures from each poster and the oral presentation.

First up: the biological rhythms poster, formally known as 1056-P in category 12-D Clinical Therapeutics/New Technology–Insulin Delivery Systems, Preliminary Characterization of Rhythmic Glucose Variability In Individuals With Type 1 Diabetes!

Lewis_Grant_BiologicalRhythmsT1D_ADA2019

As mentioned in this DiabetesMine interview, Azure Grant & I were thrilled to find out that we have been awarded a JDRF grant to further this research and undertake the first longitudinal study to characterize biological rhythms in T1D, which could also be used to inform improvements and personalize closed loop systems. This poster is part of the preliminary research we did in order to submit for this grant.

There is also a Twitter thread for this poster:

Background:

  • Human physiology, including blood glucose, exhibits rhythms at multiple timescales, including hours (ultradian, UR), the day (circadian, CR), and the ~28-day female ovulatory cycle (OR).
  • Individuals with T1D may suffer rhythmic disruption due not only to the loss of insulin, but to injection of insulin that does not mimic natural insulin rhythms, the presence of endocrine-timing disruptive medications, and sleep disruption.
  • However, rhythms at multiple timescales in glucose have not been mapped in a large population of T1D, and the extent to which glucose rhythms differ in temporal structure between T1D and non-T1D individuals is not known.

Data & Methods:

  • The initial data set used for this work leverages the OpenAPS Data Commons. (This data set is available for all researchers  – see www.OpenAPS.org/data-commons)
  • All data was processed in Matlab 2018b with code written by Azure Grant. Frequency decompositions using the continuous morlet wavelet transformation were created to assess change in rhythmic composition of normalized blood glucose data from 5 non-T1D individuals and anonymized, retrospective CGM data from 19 T1D individuals using a DIY closed loop APS. Wavelet algorithms were modified from code made available by Dr. Tanya Leise at Amherst College (see http://bit.ly/LeiseWaveletAnalysis)

Results:

  • Inter and Intra-Individual Variability of Glucose Ultradian and Circadian Rhythms is Greater in T1D
Figure_BiologicalRhythms_Lewis_Grant_ADA2019

Figure 1. Single individual blood glucose over ~ 1 year with A.) High daily rhythm stability and B.) Low daily rhythm stability. Low glucose is shown in blue, high glucose in orange.

Figure 2. T1D individuals (N=19) showed a wide range of rhythmic power at the circadian and long-period ultradian timescales compared to individuals without T1D (N=5).

A). Individuals’ CR and UR power, reflecting amplitude and stability of CRs, varies widely in T1D individuals compared to those without T1D. UR power was of longer periodicity (>= 6 h) in T1D, likely due to DIA effects, whereas UR power was most commonly in the 1-3 hour range in non-T1D individuals (*not shown).  B.) On average, both CR and UR power were significantly higher in T1D (p<.05, Kruskal Wallis). This is most likely due to the higher amplitude of glucose oscillation, shown in two individuals in C.

Conclusions:

  • This is the first longitudinal analysis of the structure and variability of multi-timescale biological rhythms in T1D, compared to non-T1D individuals.
  • Individuals with T1D show a wide range of circadian and ultradian rhythmic amplitudes and stabilities, resulting in higher average and more variable wavelet power than in a smaller sample of non-T1D individuals.
  • Ultradian rhythms of people with T1D are of longer periodicity than individuals without T1D. These analyses constitute the first pass of a subset of these data sets, and will be continued over the next year.

Future work:

  • JDRF has recently funded our exploration of the Tidepool Big Data Donation Project, the OpenAPS Data Commons, and a set of non-T1D control data in order to map biological rhythms of glucose/insulin.
  • We will use signal processing techniques to thoroughly characterize URs, CRs, and ORs in the glucose/insulin for T1D; evaluate if stably rhythmic timing of glucose is associated with improved outcomes (lower HBA1C); and ultimately evaluate if modulation of insulin delivery based on time of day or time of ovulatory cycle could lead to improved outcomes.
  • Mapping population heterogeneity of these rhythms in people with and without T1D will improve understanding of real-world rhythmicity, and may lead to non-linear algorithms for optimizing glucose in T1D.

Acknowledgements:

We thank the OpenAPS community for their generous donation of data, and JDRF for the grant award to further this work, beginning in July 2019.

Contact:

Feel free to contact us at Dana@OpenAPS.org or azuredominique@berkeley.edu.

Next up, 78-LB, Detailing the Lived Experiences of People with Diabetes Using Do-it-Yourself Artificial Pancreas Systems – Qualitative Analysis of Responses to Open-Ended Items in an International Survey, co-authored by Bryan Cleal, Shane O’Donnell, Katarina Braune, Dana Lewis, Timothy C. Skinner, Bastian Hauck, Klemens Raille, and the OPEN consortium.

78-LB_LivedExperiencesDIYAPS_OPEN_ADA2019

There is also a Twitter thread for this poster:

Introduction

There is currently a wave of interest in Do-it-Yourself Artificial Pancreas Systems (DIYAPS), but knowledge about how the use of these systems impacts on the lives of those that build and use them remains limited. Until now, only a select few have been able to give voice to their experiences in a research context. In this study we present data that addresses this shortcoming, detailing the lived experiences of people using DIYAPS in an extensive and diverse way.

Methods

An online survey with 34 items was distributed to DIYAPS users recruited through the Facebook groups “Looped” (and regional sub-groups) and Twitter pages of the Diabetes Online Community (DOC). Participants were posed two open-ended questions in the survey, where personal DIYAPS stories were garnered; including knowledge acquisition, decision-making, support and emotional aspects in the initiation of DIYAPS, perceived changes in clinical and quality of life (QoL) outcomes after initiation and difficulties encountered in the process. All answers were analyzed using thematic content analysis.

Results

In total, 886 adults responded to the survey and there were a combined 656 responses to the two open-ended items. Knowledge of DIYAPS was primarily obtained via exposure to the communication fora that constitute the DOC. The DOC was also a primary source of practical and emotional support (QUOTES A). Dramatic improvements in clinical and QoL outcomes were consistently reported (QUOTES B). The emotional impact was overwhelmingly positive, with participants emphasizing that the persistent presence of diabetes in everyday life was markedly reduced (QUOTES C). Acquisition of the requisite devices to initiate DIYAPS was sometimes problematic and some people did find building the systems to be technically challenging (QUOTE D). Overcoming these challenges did, however, leave people with a sense of accomplishment and, in some cases, improved levels of understanding and engagement with diabetes management (QUOTE E).

QuotesA_OPEN_ADA2019 QuotesB_OPEN_ADA2019 QuotesC_OPEN_ADA2019 QuotesD_OPEN_ADA2019 QuotesE_OPEN_ADA2019

Conclusion

The extensive testimony from users of DIYAPS acquired in this study provides new insights regarding the contours of this evolving phenomenon, highlighting factors inspiring people to adopt such solutions and underlining the transformative impact effective closed-loop systems bring to bear on the everyday lives of people with diabetes. Although DIYAPS is not a viable solution for everyone with type 1 diabetes, there is much to learn from those who have taken this route, and the life-changing results they have achieved should inspire all with an interest in artificial pancreas technology to pursue and dream of a future where all people with type 1 diabetes can reap the benefits that it potentially provides.

Also, see this word cloud generated from 665 responses in the two open-ended questions in the survey:

Wordle_OPEN_ADA2019

Next up is 117-LB, DIWHY: Factors Influencing Motivation, Barriers and Duration of DIY Artificial Pancreas System Use Among Real-World Users, co-authored by Katarina Braune, Shane O’Donnell, Bryan Cleal, Ingrid Willaing, Adrian Tappe, Dana Lewis, Bastian Hauck, Renza Scibilia, Elizabeth Rowley, Winne Ko, Geraldine Doyle, Tahar Kechadi, Timothy C. Skinner, Klemens Raille, and the OPEN consortium.

DIWHY_117-LB_OPEN_ADA2019

There is also a Twitter thread for this poster:

Background

Until recently, digital innovations in healthcare have typically followed a ‘top-down’ pathway, with manufacturers leading the design and production of technology-enabled solutions and patients involved only as users of the end-product. However, this is now being disrupted by the increasing influence and popularity of more ‘bottom-up’ and patient-led open source initiatives. A primary example is the growing movement of people with diabetes (PwD) who create their own “Do-it-Yourself” Artificial Pancreas Systems (DIY APS) through remote-control of medical devices employing an open source algorithm.

Objective

Little is known about why PwD leave traditional care pathways and turn to DIY technology. This study aims to examine the motivations of current DIYAPS users and their caregivers.

Research Design and Methods

An online survey with 34 items was distributed to DIYAPS users recruited through the Facebook groups “Looped” (and regional sub-groups) and Twitter pages of the “DOC” (Diabetes Online Community). Self-reported data was collected, managed and analyzed using the secure REDCap electronic data capture tools hosted at Charité – Universitaetsmedizin Berlin.

Results

1058 participants from 34 countries (81.3 % Europe, 14.7 % North America, 6.0 % Australia/WP, 3.1 % Asia, 0.1 % Africa), responded to the survey, of which the majority were adults (80.2 %) with type 1 diabetes (98.9 %) using a DIY APS themselves (43.0 % female, 56.8 % male, 0.3 % other) with a median age of 41 y and an average diabetes duration of 25.2y ±13.3. 19.8 % of the participants were parents and/or caregivers of children with type 1 diabetes (99.4 %) using a DIY APS (47.4 % female, 52.6 % male) with a median age of 10 y and an average diabetes duration of 5.1y ± 3.8. People used various DIYAPS (58.2 % AndroidAPS, 28.5 % Loop, 18.8 % OpenAPS, 5.7 % other) on average for a duration of 10.1 months ±17.6 and reported an overall HbA1c-improvement of -0.83 % (from 7.07 % ±1.07 to 6.24 % ±0.68 %) and an overall Time in Range improvement of +19.86 % (from 63.21 % ±16.27 to 83.07 % ±10.11). Participants indicated that DIY APS use required them to pay out-of-pocket costs in addition to their standard healthcare expenses with an average amount of 712 USD spent per year.

Primary motivations for building a DIYAPS were to improve the overall glycaemic control, reduce acute and long-term complication risk, increase life expectancy and to put diabetes on ‘auto-pilot’ and interact less frequently with the system. Lack of commercially available closed loop systems and improvement of sleep quality was a motivation for some. For caregivers, improvement of their own sleep quality was the leading motivation. For adults, curiosity (medical or technical interest) had a higher impact on their motivation compared to caregivers. Some people feel that commercial systems do not suit their individual needs and prefer to use a customizable system, which is only available to them as a DIY solution. Other reasons, like costs of commercially available systems and unachieved therapy goals played a subordinate role. Lack of medical or psychosocial support was less likely to be motivating factors for both groups.

Figure_OPEN_DIWHY_ADA2019

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that people using Do-it-Yourself Artificial Pancreas systems and their caregivers are highly motivated to improve their/their children’s diabetes management through the use of this novel technology. They are also able to access and afford the tools needed to use these systems. Currently approved and available commercial therapy options may not be sufficiently flexible or customizable enough to fulfill their individual needs. As part of the project “OPEN”, the results of the DIWHY survey may contribute to a better understanding of the unmet needs of PwD and current challenges to uptake, which will, in turn, facilitate dialogue and collaboration to strengthen the involvement of open source approaches in healthcare.

This is a written version of the oral presentation, In-Depth Review of Glycemic Control and Glycemic Variability in People with Type 1 Diabetes Using Open Source Artificial Pancreas Systems, co-authored by Andreas Melmer, Thomas Züger, Dana Lewis, Scott Leibrand, Christoph Stettler, and Markus Laimer.

APSComponents_Melmer_ADA2019

Artificial Pancreas Systems (APS) now exist, leveraging a CGM sensor, pump, and control algorithm. Faster insulin can play a role, too.  Traditionally, APS is developed by commercial industry, tested by clinicians, regulated, and then patients can access it. However, DIYAPS is designed by patients for individual use.

There are now multiple different kinds of DIYAPS systems in use: #OpenAPS, Loop, and AndroidAPS. There are differences in hardware, pump, and software configurations. The main algorithm for OpenAPS is also used in AndroidAPS.  DIYAPS can work offline; and also leverage the cloud for accessing or displaying data, including for remote monitoring.OnlineOffline_Melmer_ADA2019

This study analyzed data from the OpenAPS Data Commons (see more here). At the time this data set was used, there were n=80 anonymized data donors from the #OpenAPS community, with a combined 53+ years worth of CGM data.

TIR_PostLooping_Melmer_ADA2019Looking at results for #OpenAPS data donors post-looping initiation, CV was 35.5±5.9, while eA1c was 6.4±0.7. TIR (3.9-10mmol/L) was 77.5%. Time spent >10 was 18.2%; time <3.9 was 4.3%.

SubcohortData_Melmer_ADA2019We selected a subcohort of n=34 who had data available from before DIY closed looping initiation (6.5 years combined of CGM records), as well as data from after (12.5 years of CGM records).

For these next set of graphs, blue is BEFORE initiation (when just on a traditional pump); red is AFTER, when they were using DIYAPS.

TIR_PrePost_Melmer_ADA2019Time in a range significantly increased for both wider (3.9-10 mmol/L) and tighter (3.9-7.8 mmol/L) ranges.

TOR_PrePost_Melmer_ADA2019Time spent out of range decreased. % time spent >10 mmol/L decreased -8.3±8.6 (p<0.001); >13 mmol/L decreased -3.3±5.0 (p<0.001). Change in % time spent <3.9 mmol/L (-1.1±3.8 (p=0.153)), and <3.0 mmol/L (-0.7±2.2 (p=0.017)) was not significant.

We also analyzed daytime and nightime (the above was reflecting all 24hr combined; these graphs shows the increase in TIR and decrease in time out of range for both day and night).

TIR_TOR_DayAndNight_Melmer_ADA2019

Hypoglemic_event_reduction_Melmer_ADA2019There were less CGM records in the hypoglycemic range after initiating DIYAPS.

Conclusion: this was a descriptive study analyzing available CGM data from  #OpenAPS Data Commons. This study shows OpenAPS has potential to support glycemic control. However, DIYAPS are currently not regulated/approved technology. Further research is recommended.

Conclusion_Melmer_ADA2019

(Note: a version of this study has been submitted and accepted for publication in the Journal of Diabetes. Obesity, and Metabolism.)

Tips and tricks for real life and living with an ankle fracture

As I wrote in a previous post with much more detail (see here), I fell off a mountain and broke my ankle in three places, then managed to break a bone in my 5th toe on the other foot. This meant that my right ankle was in a hard cast for 6 weeks and I was 100% non-weight bearing…but this was challenging because the foot meant to be my stable base for crutching or knee scootering was often pretty wobbly and in a lot of pain.

This post is a follow up with more detailed tips and lessons learned of things that were helpful in living with a leg cast, as well as what the return to weight bearing was really like. I couldn’t find a lot of good information about the transition to weight bearing was really like, so this is my take on information I was looking for and would have appreciated before and during the weight bearing progression process. (And if you’re looking for diabetes-specific stuff, it’s in the last section!)
Tips_weight_bearing_DanaMLewis
Dealing with lack of energy and fatigue

First, it’s worth noting something major about a fractured bone, and *especially* true if it’s a big bone fracture like some of mine were: it takes a lot of healing, which means a lot of energy going to the healing and not much energy left for every day living. I was constantly exhausted – and surprised by this fatigue – pretty much throughout this process. It made sense in the early days (say weeks 1-2 after fracture), but was frustrating to me how little I had energy to do even in the 4-6 weeks after my fracture.

But, then it got worse. Returning to weight bearing took *even more* energy. For example, on the first day of partial weight bearing, I was tasked with putting 25 lbs of weight on my foot in the walking boot. First by placing my foot on the scale and getting reliable with being able to put the right amount of weight on the boot; then by standing and repeating with the scale; then taking a few steps (with the crutches taking the rest of my weight) and re-calibrating with the scale until I was confident in that weight. With weight bearing progression, you’re supposed to spend up to an hour a day working on this.

I took to heart what my ortho said about not progressing fast if you only do 5-10 minute chunks, so after the first day, I tried to always do 10-15 minute chunks at a minimum, with a longer chunk wherever possible as permitted by pain and my energy levels.

But the first few days were really, really tough. It was hard to switch to a new weight every two days – because this meant readjusting how I was stepping/walking, and how much weight and where I placed my crutches. I started with a blister on my right palm, which turned into a squished nerve that made my right hand go numb, and ultimately damaged some tendons in my right wrist, too. This made it painful to use the crutches or even drive my knee scooter when I wasn’t focusing on weight bearing. So I had a lot of pain and suffering in the WB progression process that probably contributed to how fatigued I was overall.

So one of my biggest pieces of advice for anyone with broken bones is to expect your energy to take a(nother) dip for the first few weeks after you start returning to weight-bearing (or return to normal activity outside your cast). It’s a *lot* of work to regain strength in atrophied muscles while still also doing the internal healing on the broken bones!

Tips to deal with so much fatigue as you return to weight bearing:

Some of the tips and things I figured out for being non-weight bearing and sitting around with a hard cast came in handy for the weight-bearing progression fatigue, too.

  • I got a shower bench (this is the one I got) so that it was easy to sit down on and swing my legs over into the shower/bathtub. Once I was out of my hard cast, I still can’t weight bear without the boot, so I still need a sitting shower/bath solution while I return to weight bearing. I also removed the back after a while, so it was easier to sit in either direction depending on preference (washing hair/not) without having to ask Scott to remove the back and re-attach it on the other side.
  • Speaking of showers, I put a toothbrush and toothpaste in the shower so I can also brush my teeth there while seated.
  • I still keep most of my toiletries in the bedside table (or you could have a caddy by the bedside) so I can brush my hair, take my contacts out or put them in, wipe my face (facewipes instead of having to stand at the sink to wash my face), etc. from the bed.
  • I am taking ibuprofen 4x a day, and I get tired of opening the bottle. So I dumped a pile of ibuprofen on my bedside table to make it easy to reach and remember to take first thing in the morning or at night. (There are no kids or pets in my household; keep safety in mind if you have kids etc in your household – this solution may not work for you).
  • The one time I tended to forget to proactively take my medication was mid-day, so I added a recurring calendar event to my calendar saying “take ibuprofen if you haven’t 2x a day” around 2pm, which would be the latest I would take my second round, even if I woke up later in the day and my first dose was later in the morning. This has helped me remember multiple times, especially on weekends or times when I’m away from my desk or bed where I would have the meds visible as a reminder.
  • Pre-mix protein powder (this is what I chose) into the beverage of choice in advance, and keep it in individual containers so it’s easy to get and take (and if I’m really tired, round tupperware containers that have measurement lines make it easy to measure liquid into, put the lid on to shake it up, and drink out of without having to find another cup). I had Scott do this several days in advance when he went on a trip, and we kept doing it in advance even after he got home.
  • I kept using my portable desk for working, taking video calls propped up in the bed with pillows behind me, and also laying the surface flat to eat meals from when I was too tired to get out of the bed.

Other advice for the return to weight-bearing:

If you’re like me, you’ll switch back to weight-bearing accompanied by getting out of your hard cast and getting a walking boot of some sort. If you can, ask your ortho/doc in advance what kind of boot they’ll put you in. It’s often cheaper to get the boot yourself. Perfect example: my ortho didn’t tell me what kind of boot I would need, and I looked at various boots online and saw they ranged $50-100 on Amazon. At my appointment he asked if I brought a boot and since I didn’t, they’d provide one..and the paperwork I signed stated the price would be $427 (::choking::) if the insurance didn’t cover it. Insurance negotiated down to $152 for me to pay out of pocket for since I haven’t hit my deductible…which is still 2-3x more than retail cost. UGH. So, if you can, buy your walking boot via retail. (Same goes for purchasing a knee scooter (here’s the one I got) – it may be cheaper to buy it new through Amazon/elsewhere than getting a medical purchase that goes through insurance and/or trying to do a rental.)

  • You’ll also probably end up with a boot with lots of velcro straps. When you undo your boot, fold back the strap on itself so it doesn’t stick to the boot, another strap, your clothes, etc.
Other equipment that has come in handy:
  • Get multiple ankle braces. I had a slightly structured ankle brace with hard sides that made me feel safer the first few nights sleeping out of the cast, and it was often easier to go from the bed to the bathroom on my knee scooter or crutches with the ankle brace(s) instead of re-putting on my walking boot and taking it off again for a shower. (I transitioned to sleeping in a lighter ankle brace after a week or so, but still used the structured brace inside the waterproof cast bag for swimming laps to help protect my ankle.)
  • An ice pack with a strap to put around your ankle/broken joint. I had gotten this ice pack for my knee last fall, and strap it and another ice pack to my ankle to get full joint coverage.
  • Wide leg athletic pants…ideally ones that you can put on/off without having to take your boot off. (Women should note I found better athletic pants for this purpose in the men’s athletic section at Target..but be aware a lot of the modern men’s style have tapered legs so make sure to watch out for those and have enough width to get over your boot). Taking off the boot is exhausting with so many velcro straps, so any time I can get dressed or undressed without having to remove the boot if I am not otherwise removing the boot is a win.
  • Look online for your state’s rules for a temporary handicap parking pass, and take the paperwork to your first ortho appointment to get filled out. Also, make sure to note where the places are that you can drop off the paperwork in person (in Seattle it was not the same as the DMV offices!), or otherwise be aware of the time frame for mailing those in and receiving the pass. The handicap parking placard has been helpful for encouraging me to get out of the house more to go to the store or go to a restaurant when otherwise I’m too exhausted to do anything.
  • A new shiny notebook for writing down your daily activities and what you did. If you’re not a notebook type person, use an app or note on your phone. But despite being mostly digital, I liked having a small notebook by the bed to list my daily activities and check the box on them to emphasize the activities I was doing and the progress I was making. At the beginning, it was helpful for keeping track of all the new things I needed to do; in the middle, it was useful for emphasizing the progress I was making; and at the end it felt really good to see the light of the end of the tunnel of a few pages/days left toward being fully weight bearing.
Weightbearing_notebook_DanaMLewis

Other tips for getting used to a walking boot and transitioning to weight bearing:

  • Don’t be surprised if you have pain in new areas when you move from a hard cast to a walking boot. (Remember you’ll be moving your leg or limbs in different ways than they’ve been accustomed to).
  • My ortho told me the goal of weight bearing progression is to understand the difference between discomfort (lasts a few minutes) and pain (lasts a few hours). You’re likely going to be in discomfort when doing weight bearing progression – that’s normal. Pain (i.e. sharp pain) is not normal, and you should take a break or back down to a previous weight (follow your protocol) if you have it. I was lucky – the only few times I had pain was from trying to press down forcefully on the scale when seated, rather than standing on the scale and naturally letting my weight on my leg. I didn’t end up plateauing at any weight, and was able to follow my protocol of 25lb weight bearing added every 2 days and get to full weight bearing with no delays.
  • If you have a watch with a stopwatch feature, use it. It’s hard to keep track of actual time spent walking (especially at first when 90 seconds feels like 6 minutes) with just a normal watch/clock. You could also use your smartphone’s timer feature. But tracking the time and pausing when you pause or take a break helps make sure you’re accurately tracking toward your hour of walking.
  • The process wasn’t without discomfort – physical and emotional. Putting weight on my leg was scary, and every new weight day was hard as I dealt with the fear and processing of the discomfort, as well as learning how to step and walk and do my crutches in a new way yet again.
  • But what I learned is that the first 5 minutes of every new weight day ALWAYS sucked. Once I recognized this, I set the goal to always tough out a 15 minute session after I calibrated on the scale by walking slowly around my apartment. (I put my headphones in to listen to music while I did it). As long as there was only discomfort and not pain, I didn’t stop until after 15 minutes of slow walking with that weight and also re-calibrated on the scale during and after to make sure I was in the right ballpark.
  • I had to spend the first half hour or so working on my weight bearing by myself. I couldn’t talk on the phone or talk with Scott while I did it; it required a lot of concentration. (The only thing I could do is listen to music, because I’m used to running with music). So distractions did not help when I got started, but toward the end of the hour I could handle and appreciate distractions. Same for day 2 of a weight – having distractions or a task to do (e.g. walk from A to B, or walking while my nephew was on his scooter) helped pass the time and get me to complete my hour or more of weight-bearing work.
  • Be careful with your hands and wrists. Blisters are common, and I managed to both squish a nerve (which caused me to have a numb side of my hand and be unable to type for several days) and also pull or damage tendons on both sides of my wrists. I was torn between choosing to delay my weight bearing progression work, but also recognizing that the sooner I got to full weight bearing the sooner I could completely ditch my crutches and be done hurting my hands. So I chose to continue, but in some cases shortened my chunks of WB walking down to 15 minutes wherever possible to reduce the pain and pressure on my hands.
You’ll likely also be doing range of motion exercises. At first, it’s scary how jerky your motions may be and how little your muscles and tendons respond to your brain’s commands. One thing I did was take a video on day 1 showing me pointing and stretching my ankle, and doing my ABC’s with my foot. Then every week or so when I was feeling down and frustrated about how my ankle wasn’t fully mobile yet, I’d take another video and watch the old one to compare. I was able to see progress every few days in terms of being able to point my foot more, and wider motions for doing the ABC’s with my foot.
Also remember, once you’re weight bearing and working toward getting rid of your crutches, you can use things like strollers or grocery carts to help you balance (and also kill some of your weight bearing time!) without crutches. The practice will make it easier for re-learning your posture and gaining confidence in walking without crutches.

Don’t you usually talk about diabetes stuff on this blog? 😉

(If anyone finds this post in the future mainly for ankle fracture and weight bearing transition/progression tips, you can ignore this part!)

Diabetes-wise, I’ve had a pretty consistent experience as to what I articulated in the last post about actually breaking bones.

  • It was common for my first few days of progressive weight bearing to have a small pain/stress rise in my BGs. It wasn’t much, but 20-30 points was an obvious stress response as I did the first few 15 minutes of weight bearing practice. The following days didn’t see this, so my body was obviously getting used to the stress of weight bearing again.
  • However, on the flip side, the first week of weight bearing progression also caused several lows. The hour of walking was the equivalent of any new activity where I usually have several hours later delayed sensitivity to insulin out of nowhere, and my blood sugars “go whoosh” – dropping far more than they normally would. I had two nights in a row in the first week where I woke up 2-3 hours after I went to sleep and needed to eat some carbs. This normally happens maybe once every few months (if that) now as an OpenAPS user, so it was obviously associated with this new surge of physical activity and hard work that I was doing for the weight bearing.
  • Overall, while I was 100% non-weight bearing, I was eating slightly (but not much) lower carb and slightly less processed food than I usually do. But not always. One day I ended up having 205+ grams of carbs for me (quite a bit more than my average). However, thanks to #OpenAPS, I still managed to have a 100% in range day (80-150 mg/dL). Similarly on a travel day soon after, I ate a lot less (<50g carb) and also had a great day where OpenAPS took care of any surges and dips automatically – and more importantly, without any extra work and energy on my part. Having OpenAPS during the broken bone recovery has been a HUGE benefit, not only for keeping my BGs in range so much of the time for optimal healing, but also for significantly reducing the amount of work and cognitive burden it takes to stay alive with type 1 diabetes in general. I barely had energy to eat and do my hour of weight bearing each day, let alone anything else. Thankfully good BGs didn’t fall by the wayside, but without this tech it certainly would have.

And finally the pep talk I gave myself every day during weight bearing progression work:

This is short-term and necessary discomfort and suffering on the way to weight bearing. It sucks, but you can and will do it. You have to do it. If you need to take a break, take a break. If you need to do something else to get yourself pumped up and motivated to do your weight bearing, it’s ok to do that. But you’ll get there. Slowly, but surely. You’ve got this!

Proof that I did get there:

Best of luck and lots of support and encouragement to anyone who’s working their way to weight bearing after an injury, and many thanks to everyone who’s supported me and cheered me on virtually along the way!

2021 update – see this post about (finally) running the marathon that I had signed up for before I broke my ankle!

Missing metrics in diabetes measurement by @DanaMLewis

“May I ask what your A1c is?”

This is a polite, and seemingly innocuous question. However, it’s one of my least favorite questions taken at face value. Why?

Well, this question is often a proxy for some of the following questions:

  • How well are *you* doing with DIY closed loop technology?
  • How well could *I* possibly do with DIY closed loop technology?
  • What’s possible to achieve in real-world life with type 1 diabetes?

But if I answered this question directly with “X.x%”, it leaves out so much crucial information. Such as:

  • What my BG targets are
    • Because with DIY closed loop tech like OpenAPS, you can choose and set your own target.
    • (That’s also one of the reasons why the 2018 OpenAPS Outcomes Study is fascinating to me, because people usually set high, conservative targets to start and then gradually lower them as they get comfortable. However, we didn’t have a way to retrospectively sleuth out targets, so those are results are even with the amalgamation of people’s targets being at any point they wanted at any time.)
  • What type of lifestyle I live
    • I don’t consider myself to eat particularly “high” or “low” carb. (And don’t start at me about why you choose to eat X amount of carbs – you do you! and YDMV) Someone who *is* eating a lot higher or lower carb diet compared to mine, though, may have a different experience than me.
    • Someone who is not doing exercise or activity may also have a different experience then me with variability in BGs. Sometimes I’m super active, climbing mountains (and falling off of them..more detail about that here) and running marathons and swimming or scuba diving, and sometimes I’m not. That activity is not so much about “being healthy”, but a point about how exercise and activity can actually make it a lot harder to manage BGs, both due to the volatility of the activity on insulin sensitivity etc.; but also because of the factor of going on/off of insulin for a period of time (because my pump is not waterproof).
  • What settings I have enabled in OpenAPS
    • I use most of the advanced settings, such as “superMicroBoluses” (aka SMB – read more about how it works here); with a higher than default “maxSMBBasalMinutes”; and I also use all of the advanced exercise settings so that targets also nudge sensitivity in addition to autosensitivity picking up any changes after exercise and other sensitivity-change-inducing activities or events. I also get Pushover alerts to tell me if I need any carbs (and how many), if I’m dropping faster and expected to go below my target, even with zero temping all the way down.
  • What my behavioral choices are
    • Timing of insulin matters. As I learned almost 5 years ago (wow), the impact of insulin timing compared to food *really* matters. Some people still are able to do and manage well with “pre-bolusing”. I don’t (as explained there in the previous link). But “eating soon” mode does help a lot for managing post-meal spikes (see here a quick and easy visual for how to do “eating soon”). However, I don’t do “eating soon” regularly like I used to. In part, because I’m now on a slightly-faster insulin that peaks in 45 minutes. I still get better outcomes when I do an eating-soon, sure, but behaviorally it’s less necessary.
    • The other reason is because I’ve also switched to not bolusing for meals.
      • (The exceptions being if I’m not looping for some reason, such as I’m in the middle of switching CGM sensors and don’t have CGM data to loop off of.)

These settings and choices are all crucial information to understanding the X.x% of A1c.

Diabetes isn’t just the average blood glucose value. It’s not just the standard deviation or coefficient of variation or % time in range or how much BG fluctuates.

Diabetes impacts so much of our daily life and requires so much cognitive burden for us, and our loved ones. That’s part of the reasons I appreciate so much Sulka & his family being candid about how their A1C didn’t change, but the amount of work required to achieve it did (way fewer manual corrections). And ditto for Jason & the Wittmer family for sharing about the change in the number of school nurse visits before/after using OpenAPS. (See both of their stories in this post)

For me, my quality of life metric has always been first about sleep: can I sleep safely and with peace of mind at night? Yes. Then – how long can I safely sleep? (The answer: a lot. Yay!)  But over time, my metrics have also evolved to consider how I can cut down (like Sulka) on the amount of work it takes to achieve my ideal outcomes, and find a happy balance there.

As I mentioned in this podcast recently, other than changing my pump site (here’s how I change mine) and soaking and swapping my CGM sensors (psst – soak your sensor!), I usually only take a few diabetes-related actions a day. They’re usually on my watch, pressing a button to either enable a temp target or entering carbs when I sit down to eat.

That’s a huge reduction in physical work, as well as amount of time spent thinking/planning/doing diabetes-related things. And when life happens – because I get the flu or the norovirus or I fall off a mountain and break my ankle – I don’t worry about diabetes any more.

So when I’m asked about A1c, my answer is not a simple “X.x%”. (And not just for the reason I’m annoyed by how much judging and shaming goes on around A1c, although that influences it, too.) I usually remind people that I first started with an “open loop” for a year, and that dropped my A1c by X%. And then I closed the loop, which reduced my A1c further. And we made OpenAPS even better over the last four years, which reduced it further. And then I completely stopped bolusing! And got less lows…and kept the same A1c.

And then I ask them what they’d really like to know. :) If it’s a fellow person with diabetes or a loved one, we talk about what problems they might be having or what areas they’d like to improve or what behaviors they’d like to change, if any. That’s usually way more effective than hearing “X.x%” of an A1c, and them wondering silently how to get there or what to do differently if someone wants to change things. (Or for clinicians who ask me, it turns into a discussion about choices and behaviors and tradeoffs that patients may choose to make.)

Remember, your diabetes may (and will) vary (aka, YDMV). Your lifestyle, the phase of life you’re in, your priorities, your body and health, and your choices will ALL be different than mine. That’s not bad in any way: that’s just the way it is. The behaviors I choose and the work I’m willing to do (or not do) to achieve *my* goals (and what my goals are), will be different than what you choose for yours.

And that’s therefore why A1c is not “enough” to me as a metric and something that we should compare people on, even though A1c is the “same” for everyone: because the work, time spent, behavioral tradeoffs, and goals related to it will all vary.

Missing_metrics_@DanaMLewis

Broken bones (trimalleolar ankle fracture), type 1 diabetes, and #OpenAPS

In January, Scott and I planned and went on a three day hiking trip in New Zealand. NZ is famous for “tramping” and “trekking”, and since we were in the country for a conference (you can see my talk at LinuxConfAU here!), we decided to give it a try. This was my first true “backpacking” type trip where you carry all your stuff on your back; and the first multi-day hiking experience. You could either rent a cot in a hut and carry all your food and cooking utensils and bedding on your back; or you could pay to hike with a company who has a lodge you can stay at (with hot showers and amazing food) and also has guides who hike with your pack. They had me at “gluten free food” and “hot showers”, so I convinced Scott that was the way we should do our Routeburn Track hike!

I planned ahead well for the hike; they gave us a packing list of recommended things to carry and bring. I learned from a friend in NZ, Martin, who had gone trekking a few weeks prior: his pack went over a cliff and was lost – yikes! Therefore, I planned one set of supplies in baggies and put them in both Scott & my pack just in case something happened to one of our packs, we’d still be completely covered.

Day 1 of the hike was awesome – it was overcast and felt like hiking in Seattle, but the scenery and wildlife were still great to experience. Since it was raining off and on, the waterfalls were spectacular.

Day 2 also started awesome – it was a breathtakingly clear morning with blue skies and sunshine as we hiked up above the tree line and over a mountain ridge, along the valley, and onward toward the lunch spot. I was feeling great and enjoying my hike – this was one of my all-time favorite places to hike in terms of the view of the valley and lake that we hiked from; and the mountain views on the other side of the ridge once we topped the mountain and crossed over.

However, about 30 min from the lunch shelter (and about 300 feet of elevation to go), I noticed the lady hiking in front of us decided to sit and slide down a particularly large and angled rock on the trail. I approached the rock planning to stop and assess my plan before continuing on. Before I even decided what to do, I somehow slipped and vaulted (for lack of a better word) left and off the trail…and down the slope. I flipped over multiple times and knew I had to grab something to stop my flight and be able to save myself from going all the way off the mountain slope. I amazingly only ended up about 10 feet off the trail, clinging to a giant bush/fern-like plant.

I had to be pulled back up to the trail by Scott and another hiker who came running after hearing my yell for help as I went down the mountain. (Scott came down off the trail few feet, and had to hold onto the hand of another hiker with one hand while pulling me up with the other, just like in the movies. It’s not a lot of fun to be at the end of the human chain, though!) At that point, I knew I had injured my right ankle and could only use my left foot/leg and right knee to try to climb back up to the trail while they pulled on my backpack. We got me back on to the trail and over to a rock to rest. We waited a few minutes for the back-of-the-pack guides who showed up and taped around my ankle and boot to see if I could walk on it – they thought it was sprained. I could flex, but couldn’t really put weight on it without excruciatingly sharp pain on the right side. I’d never sprained my foot before or broken any bones in my life, so I was frustrated by how painful the ‘sprain’ was. I had an overwhelming wave of nausea that I knew was in response to the pain, too, so at one point I had to sit there and lean back with my eyes closed while everyone else talked around me.

The guides wanted to see if we could get to a nearby river to ice my leg in. I used my poles as pseudo-crutches in front of me, with my arms bent at 90 degree angles, and with Scott behind me to check my balance, would crutch and hop on one leg. It wasn’t like regular crutching, though, where you can press your weight down on your arms and hands. It was really an act of placing the poles slightly forward for balance and then hopping up and forward, pressing off my left leg. My left leg was quickly exhausted and cramping from the effort of hopping forward with my entire body weight. It was also complicated by the rain making things more slippery; and of course; this is a mountain trail with rocks and boulders of different sizes. What I didn’t even notice walking normally on two feet became incredibly frustrating for figuring out when and how to jump up onto a small rock; or around to the side; etc.

“Lucky” for me (eye roll), we happened to be in an ascending section of the trail with quite a few large rocky sections, and there was no way I could hop up the uneven rocks on foot. So instead, I chose to crawl up and over those sections on my hands and knees. Then I would get up at the top and hop again through the “flatter” gravel and rock sections, then crawl again. It was slow and exhausting, and painful when I would get up one one leg again and start hopping again. I was in the most physical pain I’d ever been in my life.

After about a very slow and painful quarter of a mile, and as rain was dripping down more steadily, the guides decided I wouldn’t make it the remaining 300ft of elevation/30 minute (normal) hike to the lunch spot. They radioed for a medevac helicopter to come pick me up. I was incredibly upset and disappointed that I had ruined our hike… but also knew I absolutely wouldn’t even make it to the lunch shelter. I remember saying “I feel so stupid!” to Scott.

The helicopter came in a surprisingly quick amount of time, and they let out one of the EMT’s nearby and then flew over to a hill across from the trail. The EMT saw that I was decently clothed and covered (I had 3/4 length running pants on; a rain jacket and hood; and had a second rain jacket to cover my legs against the rain and wind) and did a verbal status check to confirm I was decent enough for them to lift me off the mountain. They weren’t able to land safely anywhere nearby on the trail because it was so steep and narrow; so they put me in a “sack” that went around my back and looped over my arms and between my legs, and was hooked on to the EMT’s harness. Scott and the guide stood back, while the helicopter came back and lowered the winch. I was winched up from there. However, the EMT had told me once we got up to the helicopter that the team inside would pull me straight back. And that didn’t happen, which was slightly more terrifying because we started flying away from the mountain while still *outside* the helicopter. It turns out the helicopter had unloaded a stretcher and supplies on the nearby hill, and so we were lowered down – with me and the EMT still perched outside the skids – to the hillside there, so the team could then gather the supplies & then load me in so I could sit on the stretcher.

The other terrifying factor about being evacuated off the mountain was that due to the weather that was blowing in hours ahead of schedule, and the “we have to winch you off the mountain” aspect: they couldn’t take Scott with us. So I had to start making plans & preparing myself for going to the hospital by myself in a foreign country. I was terrified about my BGs & diabetes & how I know hospitals don’t always know what to do with people with T1D, let alone someone on a (DIY) closed loop. I tried to tamp down on my worries & make some plans while we waited for the helicopter, so Scott would know I was okay-ish and worry slightly less about me. But at that point, we knew he would have to finish the day’s hike (another 3-4 hours); spend the night; and hike down the next day as planned in order to meet up with me at the hospital.

As we lifted off in the helicopter, I handed the EMT my phone, where I had made a note with my name, age, medical information (T1D & celiac), and the situation about my ankle. He loved it, because he could just write down my information on the accident forms without yelling over the headset. Once he gave me my phone back, a few minutes later we passed back into an area with signal, and I was able to send text messages for the first time in 2 days.

I sent one to my mom, as carefully worded as I could possibly do:

“Slipped off the trail. Hurt ankle. BGs ok. In a helicopter to the hospital in Queenstown. Just got signal in helicopter. Don’t freak out. Will text or call later. Love you”

It had all the key information – something happened; here’s where I’m heading; BGs are fine; pleeeeeeeease don’t freak out.

I also sent a text to Scott’s dad, Howard, who’s an ER doc, with a tad different description:

“Slipped and flipped off the trail. Possible ankle fracture or serious sprain. Being medevac’d off in a helicopter. BGs are fine. But please stand by for any calls in case I need medical advice. Just got signal in the chopper. Scott is still on the trail until tomorrow so I am solo.”

I was quite nervous when we arrived at the hospital. I haven’t been in an ER since high school (when I was dehydrated from a virus). I’ve heard horror stories about T1D & hospitals. However, most of my fears related to T1D were completely unfounded. When I arrived, the EMT did some more paperwork, I talked briefly to a nurse, and then was left alone for quite a while (maybe an hour). Other than mentioning T1D (and that my BGs were fine) and celiac to the nurse, no one ever asked about my BGs throughout the rest of the time in the ER. Which was fine with me. What my BGs had actually done was rise steadily from about 120 up to 160, then stayed there flat. That’s a bit high, but given I was trying to manage pain and sort out my situation, I was comfortable being slightly elevated in case I crashed/dropped later when the adrenaline came down. I just let OpenAPS keep plugging away.

The first thing that was done in the ER about an hour after I arrived was wheeling me to go get an x-ray. It was quick and not too painful. I remember vividly that the radiologist came back out and and said “yes, your ankle is definitely broken. In two places.” I started at her and thought an expletive or two. But for some reason, that made me feel a lot better: my pain and the experience I had on the mountain was not totally disproportionate to the injury. I relaxed a lot then, and could feel a lot of the stress ebbing away. My BGs started a slow sloping drop down almost immediately, and ended up going from 160 down to 90 where I leveled out nicely and stayed for the next few hours.

After I was wheeled back to my area of the ER, the ER doc showed up. He started asking, “So I heard you hopped and climbed off the mountain?” and then followed up by saying yes, my ankle was broken…in three places.

Me: “WHAT? Did you say ::three::?”

The ER doc said he had already consulted ortho who confirmed I would need surgery. However, it didn’t have to be that night (halleluljah), and they usually waited ’til swelling went down to operate, so I had a choice of doing it in NZ or going home and doing it there. He asked when I was planning to leave: this was Sunday evening now; and we planned to fly out Wednesday morning. I asked if there were any downsides to waiting to do surgery at home; any risk to my long-term health? He said no, because they usually wait ~10 days for the swelling to go down to operate. So I could wait in NZ (me: uhhh, no) or fly home and see someone locally. I was absolutely thrilled I wouldn’t need to operate then and there, and without Scott. I asked for more details so I could get my FIL’s opinion (he concurred, coming home was reasonable), and then confirmed that I liked the plan to cast me; send me on my way; and let me get surgery at home.

It took them another 2 hours to get me to the procedure room and start my cast. This was a small, 6-bed ER. When they finally started my cast, the ER doc had his hands on my ankle holding it up…and another nurse rushed in warning that a critical patient was in route, 5 minutes out. The ER doc and the other nurse looked at each other, said “we can do this by then”, and literally casted me in 2 minutes and were wheeling me out in the third minute! It was a tad amusing. I was taken back to x-ray where they confirmed that the cast was done with my ankle in a good position. After that, I just needed my cast to be split so I could accommodate swelling for the long plane rides home; get my prescriptions for pain med; get crutches; and go home.

All that sounds fast, but due to the critical patient that had come in, it took another two hours. They finally came and split my cast (which is done by using the cast cutter to cut a line, then another line, then pull out the strip in between), sold me my crutches, and wrote my prescriptions. The ER doc handed me my script, and I asked if the first rx had acetaminophen (because it would mess up my G4). He said it did, so he scribbled that out and prescribed ibuprofen instead. The nurse then got & apologized for “having to sell me” crutches. New Zealand has a public health policy where they cover everything in an accident for foreigners: I didn’t have to pay for the medevac (!!), the ER visit (!!), the x-rays (!!), the cast …nothing. Just the crutches (which they normally lend for free to NZ but obviously I was taking these home). Then I was on my way.

Thankfully, the company we hiked with had of course radioed into Queenstown, and the operations manager had called the ER and left a message to give to me with his phone number. A few hours prior, when I found out I’d be casted & released that night, I had been texting my mom & had her call the hotel Scott & I were staying at the next (Monday) night to see if they had a room that (Sunday) night that I could check into. The hiking company guy offered to drive me wherever, so he came to pick me up. I had texted him to keep him posted on my progress/timeline of release (nice and vague and unhelpful for the most part). But I also asked as soon as we got in contact if he could radio a message to the lodge & tell Scott that: a) my ankle was broken; b) I was ok; c) I’d be at the hotel when he got in the next day and not to rush, I was ok. The guy said he could do me one better: when he came to pick me up, he’d bring the phone so I could ::call: and talk to Scott directly. (I almost cried with relief, there, at the idea of getting to talk to Scott so he wouldn’t be beside himself worrying for 22 hours). I did get to talk to Scott for about a minute and tell him everything directly, and convince him not to hike out himself in the morning, but stick with the group and the normal transport method back to Queenstown, and just come meet me at the hotel when he got back around 4pm the next day. He agreed.

(What I didn’t find out until later is that Scott had considered doing the rest of the hike completely that night. Two things ended up dissuading him: one was the fact that a guide would have had to go with him and then hike all the way back to the lodge that night. The other was the fact that he talked to me and I would be out of the hospital by the time he arrived; so since I said I was fine alone at the hotel, he’d wait until the next day.)

So, I was taken to the hotel and got help getting up to the hotel room and had ice delivered along with extra pillows to prop up, and our bags brought in. Thankfully, on the mountain, the EMT had agreed to winch my backpack up with me. This was huge, because I noted earlier, I had a full set of supplies in my backpack, and all we had to do on the mountain was grab an extra international adapter and my charger cords out of Scott’s bag and toss it into mine. That made it easy to just pull what I needed that night (my rig; charger cords & adapter; a snack) out of the top of my bag from my perch on the bed. I plugged in my rig; made sure I was looping, took my pain meds, and went to sleep.

Broken_bones_type_1_diabetes_trimalleolar_fracture_OpenAPS_DanaMLewisAmazingly, although you’re probably not any more surprised than I am at this point, my BGs stayed perfectly in range all night. Seriously: after that lowering from 160 once I relaxed and let some of the stress go? No lows. No highs. Perfectly in range. The pain/inflammation and my lack of eating didn’t throw me out of range at all. The day of the fall, all I ate was breakfast (8am); didn’t eat lunch and didn’t bother doing anything until 11pm when I had a beef jerky stick for some protein and half a granola bar (10g carbs). For the next two and a half weeks now, I’ve had no lows, and very few highs.

The one other high BG I really had was on Sunday after we got home (we got back on Wednesday). It happened after my crutch hit the door coming back to my bedroom from the bathroom, and I did such a good job hopping on my left foot and protecting my casted right foot, that I managed to break the smallest toe on my left foot. I pretty immediately knew that it was broken based on the pain; then my BG slowly rose from 110 up to 160; and then I started to have the same “shadow” bruising spread around my foot from the base of the toe. Scott wasn’t sure; when I had fallen off the trail I had yelled “help!” and “I think I broke my foot!”. I didn’t say it out loud this time; just thought it. Again, after some ibuprofen and icing and resting, within an hour my BG started coming back down slowly to below 100 mg/dL.

On Tuesday, I went to the orthopedic surgeon and confirmed: my left toe is definitely broken. My right ankle is definitely broken: the trimalleolar fracture diagnosis from NZ was confirmed. However, given that none of the ligaments were damaged, and the ankle was in a decent position, the ortho said there’s a good chance I can avoid surgery and heal in place inside a cast. The plan was to take off my split, plaster-based cast they did in NZ and give me a proper cast. We’d follow up in 10 days and confirm via x-ray that everything was going well. I asked how likely surgery would still be with this plan; and he said 20%. Well, given that I was assuming 100% before, that was huge progress! He also told me I shouldn’t travel within 4 weeks of the injury, which unfortunately means I had to cancel my trip to Berlin for ATTD later in February. It may or may not mean I have to cancel another trip; I’ll have to wait and see after the next follow up appointment, depending on whether or not I need surgery.

Up until this point, I had been fairly quiet (for me) on social media. I hadn’t posted the pictures of our hike; I didn’t talk about my fall or the trip home. One friend had texted and said “I wondered if you fell off the face of the earth!” to which I responded “uhhh…well…about that…I ::only:: fell off a mountain! Not earth!” Ha. Part of the reason was not knowing whether or not I would be able to travel as planned, and wanting to be courteous to informing the conferences who invited me to speak about the situation & what it meant for me being able to attend/not. Once I had done that, I was able to start posting & sharing with everyone what had happened.

To be perfectly honest, it’s one thing to have a broken limb and a cast and have to use crutches. It’s an entirely other ball of wax to have a broken toe on the foot that’s supposed to be your source of strength & balance. The ortho gave me a post-op surgical shoe to wear on my left foot to try to help, but it hurt so bad that I can’t use my knee scooter to move easily without my left foot burning from the pain. Thankfully, Scott’s parents’ neighbor also had a motorized sit-scooter that we borrowed. However, due to the snowpocalypse that hit Seattle, I’ve not been able to leave the house since Thursday. We haven’t been able to drive anywhere, or walk/scooter anywhere, in days. I’m not quite stir crazy yet; but; I’ll be really looking forward to the sidewalks being snow-free and hopefully lake-free (from all the melting snow) later in the week so I can get out again. I also picked up a cold somewhere, so I for the most part have been stationary in bed for the last week, propping up my feet and using endless boxes of Kleenex.

OpenAPS, as you can see, has done an excellent job responding to the changes in my insulin needs from being 100% sedentary. (Really – think trips to the bathroom and that’s it.)  In addition to the increased resistance from my cold and being sedentary, there’s one other new factor I’ve been dealing with. I asked my ortho about nutrition, and he wants me to get 1g of protein per kg of body weight, plus 1000mg/day of calcium. He suggested getting the extra protein via a powder, instead of calories (e.g. eating extra food). I found a zero-carb, gluten free powder that’s 25g of protein per scoop, and have been trying it with chocolate milk (which is 13g of carb and 10g of protein).

I’ve been drinking that 2x a day. Interestingly, previous to my injury, unless I was eating a 100% no carb meal (such as eggs and bacon for breakfast), I didn’t need to bolus/account for protein. However, even though I’m entering carbs for chocolate milk (15), I was seeing a spike up to 150 mg/dL after drinking it. I tried entering 30g for the next time (13g of milk; plus about 50% for the 25+10g worth of protein), and that worked better and only resulted in a 10 mg/dL rise in response to it. But even a handful of nuts’ worth of protein, especially on days where I’m hardly eating anything, have a much stronger effect on my BGs. This could be because my body is adjusting to me eating a lot less (I don’t have much appetite); adjusting to the much-higher-protein diet overall; and/or responding to the 100% sedentary pattern of my body now.

Thankfully, it’s not been a big deal, and OpenAPS does such a good job tamping down on the other noise-based factors: it’s nice that my biggest problems are brief rises to 160 or 170 mg/dL (that then come back down on their own). My 7-day and 30-day BG averages have stayed the same; and my % time in range for 80-160 has stayed the same, even with what feels like a few extra protein-related blips, and even when some days I eat hardly anything and some days I manage 2-3 meals.

So to summarize a ridiculously long post:

  • When I break bones, my BGs rise up (due to inflammation and/or the stress/other hormonal reaction) up to 160 mg/dL until I relax, when they’ll come back down. Otherwise, broken bones don’t really phase OpenAPS.
  • Ditto for lack of movement and changes in activity patterns not phasing OpenAPS.
  • The biggest “challenge” has been adjusting to the 3x amount of protein I’m getting as a dietary change.
  • I have a trimalleolar fracture; and that’s about 7% of ankle fractures. I read a lot of blog posts about people needing surgery & the recovery from it taking a long time. I’m not sure I won’t need surgery; but I’m hoping I won’t need it. If so, here’s one data point for a trimalleolar fracture being non-surgical  – I’ll update more later with full recovery timelines & details. Also, here is a Twitter thread where I’m tracking some of the most helpful things for life with crutches.
  • Don’t break your littlest toe – it can hurt more than larger fractures if you have to walk on it!

A huge thank you goes to my parents and Scott’s parents; our siblings on both sides for being incredibly supportive and helpful as well; and Scott himself who has been waiting on me (literally hand and foot) and taking most excellent care of me.

And thank you as well to anyone who read this & for everyone who’s been sending positive thoughts and love and support. Thank you!

4 years DIY closed looping with #OpenAPS – what changed and what hasn’t

It’s hard to express the magnitude of how much closed looping can improve a person with diabetes’ life, especially to someone who doesn’t have diabetes or live closely with someone that does. There are so many benefits – and so many way beyond the typically studied “A1c improvement” and “increased time in range”. Sure, those happen (and in case you haven’t seen it, see some of the outcomes from various international studies looking at DIY closed loop outcomes). But everything else…it’s hard to explain all of the magic that happens in real life, that’s made so much richer by having technology that for the most part keeps diabetes out of the way, and more importantly: off the top of your mind.

Personally, my first and most obvious benefit, and the whole reason I started DIYing in the first place, was to have the peace of mind to sleep safely at night. Objective achieved, immediately. Then over time, I got the improvements in A1c and time in range, plus reduction in time spent doing diabetes ‘stuff’ and time spent thinking about my own diabetes. The artificial pancreas ‘rigs’ got smaller. We improved the algorithm, to the point where it can handle the chaos that is everything from menstrual cycle to having the flu or norovirus.

More recently, in the past ~17 months, I’ve achieved an ultimate level of not doing much diabetes work that I never thought was possible: with the help of faster insulin and things like SMB’s (improved algorithm enhancements in OpenAPS), I’ve been able do a simple meal announcement by pressing a button on my watch or phone..and not having to bolus. Not worrying about precise carb counts. Not worrying about specific timing of insulin activity. Not worrying about post-meal lows. Not worrying about lots of exercise. And the results are pretty incredible to me:

But I remember early on when we had announced that we had figured out how to close the loop. We got a lot of push back saying, well, that’s good for you – but will it work for anyone else? And I remember thinking about how if it helped one other person sleep safely at night..it would be worth the amount of work it would take to open source it. Even if we didn’t know how well it would work for other people, we had a feeling it might work for some people. And that for even a few people who it might work for, it was worth doing. Would DIY end up working for everyone, or being something that everyone would want to do? Maybe not, and definitely not. We wouldn’t necessarily change the world for everyone by open sourcing an APS, but that could help change the world for someone else, and we thought that was (and still is) worth doing. After all, the ripple effect may help ultimately change the world for everyone else in ways we couldn’t predict or expect.

Ripple_effect_DanaMLewisThis has become true in more ways than one.

That ‘one other person’ turned into a few..then dozen..hundreds..and now probably thousand(s) around the world using various DIY closed loop systems.

And in addition to more people being able to choose to access different DIY systems with more pumps of choice, CGMs of choice, and algorithm of choice, we’ve also seen the ripple effect in the way the world works, too. There is now, thankfully, at least one company who is evaluating open source code; running simulations with it; and where it is out-performing their original algorithm or code components, utilizing that knowledge to improve their system. They’re also giving back to the open source diabetes community, too. Hopefully more companies will take this approach & bring better products more quickly to the market. When they are ready to submit said products, we know at least U.S. regulators at the FDA are ready to quickly review and work with companies to get better tools on the market. That’s a huge change from years ago, when there was a lot of finger pointing and what felt like a lot of delay preventing newer technology from reaching the market. The other change I’m seeing is in diabetes research, where researchers are increasingly working directly with patients from the start and designing better studies around the things that actually matter to people with diabetes, including analyzing the impact and outcomes of open source technology.

After five years of open source diabetes work, and specifically four years of DIY closed looping, it finally feels like the ripples are ultimately helping achieve the vision we had at the start of OpenAPS, articulated in the conclusion of the OpenAPS Reference Design:

OpenAPS_Reference_Design_conclusionIs there still more work to do? Absolutely.

Even as more commercial APS roll out, it takes too long for these to reach many countries. And in most parts of the world, it’s still insanely hard and/or expensive to get insulin (which is one of the reasons Scott and I support Life For A Child to help get insulin, supplies, and education to as many children as possible in countries where otherwise they wouldn’t be able to access it – more on that here.). And even when APS are “approved” commercially, that doesn’t mean they’ll be affordable or accessible, even with health insurance. So I expect our work to continue, not only to support ongoing improvements with DIY systems directly; but also with encouraging and running studies to generalize knowledge from DIY systems; hopefully seeing DIY systems approved to work with existing interoperable devices; helping any company that will listen to improve their systems, both in terms of algorithms but also in terms of usability; helping regulators to see both what’s possible as well as what’s needed to successfully using these types of system in the real world. I don’t see this work ending for years to come – not until the day where every person with diabetes in every country has access to basic diabetes supplies, and the ability to choose to use – or not – the best technology that we know is possible.

But even so, after four years of DIY closed looping, I’m incredibly thankful for the quality of life that has been made possible by OpenAPS and the community around it. And I’m thankful for the community for sharing their stories of what they’ve accomplished or done while using DIY closed loop systems. It’s incredible to see people sharing stories of how they are achieving their best outcomes after 45 years of diabetes; or people posting from Antartica; or after running marathons; or after a successful and healthy pregnancy where they used their DIY closed loop throughout; or after they’ve seen the swelling in their eyes go done; etc.

The stories of the real-life impacts of this type of technology are some of the best ripple effects that I never want to forget.