Shoot for the Stars: John Cutter on Living His Dream as a Firefighter with T1D
This content was created as part of a partnership between Beyond Type 1 and Insulet, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication.
Diagnosis and destiny
For as long as he can remember, John Cutter knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up. The fifth generation firefighter from Massachusetts was practically born into the profession. But when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008, it felt like there was a wrench thrown into his lifelong plans.
“I was 18 and I’d just graduated high school. I was getting ready to go off to college, I was ready to basically move in… It was pretty much detected by my parents. They felt something was wrong with me—they just knew, and they took me to the emergency room, and sure enough that’s when I got diagnosed.”
As is the case with most people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D), John’s world was briefly turned upside down as he wondered what his diagnosis meant for his future. Would he still be able to become a firefighter? Or play sports? Could he still move away from home in just a few months?
“When I was diagnosed, that was the biggest concern. My mother’s concern was: would I be capable of going off to college? Nobody [in my family] really knew too much about diabetes.”
John wasn’t just going away to college; he was going for a specific degree—a Bachelor of Science with a specialty in fire science. It’s a degree typically pursued by those planning to pursue a profession as a firefighter, but John’s diagnosis left his career choice in jeopardy.
“Whether or not I would be able to become a firefighter definitely was a thought for a while, and I think the biggest relief was realizing that I can do this. I mean, there are definitely questions raised in every fire department job that I’ve gone to. They put you through a regular medical physical to make sure that you’re fit for the job, which is understandable.”
A team effort
John was lucky to have the support of an amazing group when he was first diagnosed, and credits them with the quick transition he made to his new life with diabetes. He had a self-described fan club of relatives in the hospital, as well as the endocrinology expertise of Dr. Sanjeev Mehta, MD, MPH at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
“My family, my parents and my grandfather—who were basically my biggest supporters even if they really didn’t know what was going on—were always there for me. I think my mother spent even more time researching than I did.”
John has never been shy about advocating for himself and recalls how he switched from injections to an insulin pump just a month following his diagnosis: “I didn’t have a choice about whether or not to have diabetes, but how I cared for myself—I decided it’s going to be my way, we’re going to do it on my terms. Why am I on syringes when I could be on one of these technologies?”
John had been researching diabetes tech and decided that what he really wanted was something convenient that allowed for him to continue playing lacrosse in college. So, with Dr. Mehta’s help and blessing, John began using the Omnipod Insulin Management System.
The Omnipod effect
Since 2008, John has been using the Omnipod System to manage his diabetes, and he’s been on the Omnipod DASH System (the next generation Omnipod System) since the beginning of this year. John has switched from his pediatric endocrinologist to Dr. Elena Toschi, MD and not surprisingly, he was insistent upon getting the Omnipod DASH System when he met with her.
“If there’s new technology, I want it yesterday. Every time that there’s been a change, there’s been significant differences as far as improvement goes. It just got released and I want it now. Let’s go get it. It’s going to make a difference. In my profession, seconds matter, and at the same time I have to be healthy and safe to be able to protect the general public. It’s one of those things that I think Dr. Toschi takes personally as well, and then back when DASH was released and she was authorized to prescribe some for the limited market release, I think I was a thorn in her side for a while. I was like, ‘It’s going to make a difference and I know it. Let’s do this!’”
Editor’s Note: Omnipod DASH is now widely available throughout the U.S.
The slim profile of the Omnipod DASH Personal Diabetes Manager (PDM), in particular, has been game-changing for John, as he can have it on him at all times during his shift if he wants to: “I could be gone for 15 minutes or I could be at a fire for 10 hours. “With the original PDM, it is great, but it is just more bulky, especially for my life”. With the DASH PDM, it’s a small screen, and it’s excellent because I can fit it into my pocket with my cell phone… If you can have your PDM right with you, you’re going to have much better control. I think that was always kind of the game plan for Omnipod. I like to say they’re at the forefront, they’re right there, leading the pack and it makes my life easier.”
It’s important to note pods will continue delivering basal rates even out of range of the PDM. But the benefit of the DASH is that the PDM is so slim that it can be easily tucked into a pocket.