Riding the Loop: Life on the Artificial Pancreas
It was a boring Friday night … sitting at home, watching some Netflix, and enjoying the show. No, not the show on the tube … I was watching my new Artificial Pancreas (or AP for short) like it was a thriller movie about to reach the terrifying climax. Dexcom showed that my BG was 74 at 12:22 AM. The AP app “Loop” predicted that my BG would be 71 at 12:25 AM. I waited with fear and excitement to see if it would become true. In the past I would have treated once I dropped below 90, especially with that deathly down arrow staring me in the face. Instead I sat staring at the green circle waiting for the app to “loop.” The green circle turned to yellow, it started to pulse … and BOOM. My actual Dexcom BG turned to 71, just like the app said it would! I was absolutely blown away. I wanted to wait and see if it would match the next 2 numbers (68 and 63) but I figured dropping into the 60’s wasn’t necessarily a great idea … and I knew this was only the beginning of the amazing adventure I now found myself on. I was overcome with joy. How did a 25-year-old Type 1 who is deathly afraid of lows get to this point though? To understand what a true milestone in my diabetes “career” this was, first I need to take you back …
Back in 2003, I had my first of what would be four hypoglycemic “seizures” or assisted low events (whatever you want to call them). Slowly but surely during high school and even more when I went off to college, I started to develop a very unhealthy fear of low blood sugar. Maybe this fear was justified, but I couldn’t keep justifying having an A1C of 9+ for much longer. I was treating “lows” at 130 and letting the arrows on my beloved Dexcom absolutely control my life. I couldn’t just let this keep going. I tried to seek help from doctors, therapists and friends in my Type 1 community, but nothing people told me could just change my mind about the fear I’d developed over hypos.
Today, I’ve made some improvement in my anxiety and fear of my diabetes management. I was beginning to live and accept the fact that low BGs were a part of managing your diabetes in a healthy way. I began to see days where I would stay in a “perfect” range (completely by accident sometimes, as we all know!). The fear however, was still there. Sure I could stay at a pretty good range with a great bit of effort and blood sugar OCD on my part, but the stress was wearing me out. I wasn’t living at home in Georgia anymore with the comfort of knowing my family was nearby. Now I was living in San Diego, virtually alone, at my new job at none other than … DEXCOM. But something needed to change nonetheless. I needed a miracle to help me overcome this anxiety that gripped me on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.
I met a new friend at Dexcom who like me, loved working there and also wore the system. But she had something I hadn’t seen before. She showed me her Dexcom G5 just like mine … but hers was accompanied by an old school MiniMed pump, a super cool looking app (the Loop) and a smallish Tic-Tac box looking thing that she told me was called a “Riley Link.” I was instantly psyched! I asked her how I could get started on this system myself, and she gladly told me about everything I would need. I was skeptical for a while though, and put my plans for building my own AP on the back burner. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when she confronted me and asked, “So are you all talk or are you actually going to build one of these bad boys?” She was right. What was I doing?
Here I was with one of the coolest futuristic breakthroughs in Type 1 technology staring me in the face. A device that up until now we had only heard about in clinical trials and Facebook posts. And what was I? Scared? So one day I stared my fear down. I hit up a friend in Boston who had an extra old Mini-med pump and had her send it to me. I went online without even thinking about it and shelled out the $135 for my very own Riley Link.
Within the week my new toys arrived and I was off and running! With the help of my friend and others at Dexcom already on this incredible system (some of which who actually helped build and perfect it), I built my very own Artificial Pancreas! Suddenly I found myself “riding the Loop.” In the back of my mind though, I was scared. Was I going to freak out when my new “norm” for BGs became numbers that don’t begin with a 1 … the answer to my surprise, is NO! The freedom of life on the AP was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Now instead of fearing the aftermath of a big meal accompanied by a big bolus, I have found harmony in letting my AP take care of the numbers for awhile.
The results have been absolutely astounding. Now thanks to the AP, it does all the worrying for me so I don’t have to fret. I truly encourage anyone considering making the jump into this closed loop system to give it a try! Why wait until this type of device is mass produced and sold for big money on the open market? Why not use the tools we already have, and just go for it? Take it from the guy who used to treat “low” BGs in the 150s … you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
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