How Continuous Glucose Monitors Help Kids with Type I Diabetes
January 06, 2021
Josh Schwartz, a 16-year-old at Solon High School, loved his chosen sport of competitive diving. “I enjoyed seeing how far I was able to push myself,” he says. “You end up doing things with your body that you never thought would be possible.”
But in the middle of his sophomore year diving season in February 2018, his body started sending him signals that all was not well.
“I found myself falling asleep in class, eating all the time and still feeling hungry, and getting up to use the bathroom several times a night,” he says.
Things came to a head during a crucial diving meet. “I had to lie down between every dive because I was so tired,” he recalls. His parents took him to UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital immediately afterward. There, he spent three days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Adjusting To a New Normal
Type 1 diabetes is a disorder in which the body’s immune system damages cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the sugar (glucose) in the blood be taken up by the cells and used as fuel. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of entering the cells, it can cause the symptoms Josh experienced. It can also cause weakness, weight loss, blurred vision and a number of other issues. If left untreated, high blood sugar can damage organ systems throughout the body.
The diagnosis was a shock and a turning point, but Josh recalls that the care he received at UH Rainbow gave him and his family confidence that he would be okay. “The medical team spent a lot of time teaching me and my parents about type 1 diabetes and diabetes management,” he says. “Overall, it was actually a good experience.”
When Josh left the hospital, however, it took some work to adjust to his new way of life. This included counting carbohydrates, injecting insulin and pricking his finger to check his blood sugar up to seven times a day.
“It wasn’t a fun thing to have to do, but I managed,” he says.
Four days after leaving the hospital, he was competing again. “I had to check my blood sugar every 30 minutes, but we still qualified for the state meet,” he says.
A Life-Changing Technology
Six months after Josh was diagnosed, his routine became much easier when he got a continuous glucose monitor. This device has a sensor wire that measures glucose in the fluid just under the skin. A small transmitter attached to the wire sends glucose readings to Josh’s cell phone and smart watch every five minutes, displaying real-time glucose readings as well as trends over time. He can even set alerts to warn him if his glucose is trending outside his target range.
“The continuous glucose monitor gave me much more control over my diabetes management and made my life a lot easier,” he says. “For example, I could check my glucose level before practice and eat something to make sure I stayed within my target range.”
At first, he worried about wearing the device all the time, especially while diving. Initially he wore it on his abdomen but soon found that it was slim enough to fit comfortably and securely on his buttocks under his bathing suit. Placed there, it never interfered with his movements or came off in the pool.
Josh wrapped up his diving career on the podium at his last state meet. He’s now a 19-year-old freshman on a pre-med track at the University of Cincinnati.
“It was so eye-opening to be in an intensive care unit and realize that the right medical care could make that a positive and even calming experience,” he says. “It made me want to pursue a career in health care.”
Innovation in Action
UH Rainbow’s Division of Pediatric Endocrinology is committed to helping teens like Josh and even some infants and toddlers access the newest technologies that can help them manage their type 1 diabetes and lead full and active lives. Many families also report such technology helps them rest easier at night knowing that their child is being monitored and they will be alerted to problems if they arise.
“Continuous glucose monitors are a game-changing technology for managing diabetes,” says Sarah MacLeish, DO, pediatric endocrinologist with UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.
Other technologies include wearable insulin pumps that deliver insulin when users enter their glucose readings and carbohydrate counts into a control device. This eliminates the need for multiple insulin injections.
Under Dr. MacLeish’s leadership, UH Rainbow is participating in a clinical trial of a new diabetes management device. The Insulet Omnipod 5TM System is an insulin pump that uses continuous glucose monitor readings to automatically adjust insulin delivery. The results from the study will be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later this year.
“Type 1 diabetes patients have more choices for management and control than ever before,” Dr. MacLeish says. “And it’s very exciting to be participating in research aimed at advancing the technology that can improve their quality of life.”
UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s is recognized as a national leader in pediatric endocrinology research and innovation. The pediatric endocrinology team applies the division’s expertise and research in clinical care from basic science of type 1 and 2 diabetes to the most advanced medications and therapies like continuous glucose monitoring and insulin pumps. Learn more about pediatric endocrinology services at UH Rainbow.