From Diagnosis to Adventure: Life with Type 1 Diabetes
Meet longtime MedicAlert member Larkin Clark, who has been living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) for 26 years.
Though it is most commonly diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, like it was for Larkin, some people develop T1D in adulthood. According to Beyond Type 1, a leading diabetes education platform and organization, there are 1.25 million people living with type 1 diabetes in the U.S. alone. This includes 40,000 new diagnoses each year.
Larkin, an accomplished writer, photographer, filmmaker, and avid traveler, has become a pro at managing her type 1 diabetes so that she can continue to live life to its fullest.
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Learning how to manage type 1 diabetes
Like many people with type 1 diabetes, Larkin manages her blood sugar every day with a combination of diabetes devices. She uses a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a manual glucose meter for calibration finger sticks, and an insulin infusion pump. Keeping blood sugars in a safe range is extremely important. Consistently high blood sugars can lead to complications like diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), kidney failure, and retinopathy. Low blood sugars can lead to seizures, coma, or even death. But with proper management, people with diabetes can lead healthy lives free of complications. So far, Larkin is one of them.
Though she’s lived with type 1 diabetes since childhood, Larkin says her journey with chronic illness is always evolving and she’s constantly learning something new. “I’ve gotten used to the moving parts of everyday management over time,” she says, “but it’s a 24/7 job I’ll have for life and no two days are exactly alike.” That extra full-time job can sometimes lead to emotional distress, an experience she wrote about for Glamour Magazine last year. After all, there are no breaks from clocking meals, insulin, and blood sugars.
But despite the added work managing type 1 diabetes requires, Larkin doesn’t let it define her. “I’ve come to learn that the numbers on my meter aren’t an indicator of my overall worth or ability to manage my diabetes. They are just data to guide me toward better health. The most important thing is that I try my best and keep moving forward.”
She does that by embracing her love of travel, storytelling, and the outdoors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she deepened her commitment to diabetes awareness advocacy as she sheltered in place at home in California. Larkin graciously shared more about her life with type 1 diabetes and what MedicAlert means to her.
How type 1 diabetes impacts Larkin's daily life
Larkin explained, “Whatever I do, life with type 1 diabetes is always in the background. My insulin pump and CGM help me keep my blood sugars in a safe range most of the time. But I still have to factor in everything else that can impact my numbers throughout the day: what I’m eating, how much I’m exercising, whether I’m going to be working at my desk or being more active… the list goes on.”
She also noted that her diagnosis created some extra concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. “My top priority has been to stay as on top of my diabetes management as possible. Poor blood sugars can weaken the immune system. While people with diabetes aren’t necessarily at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, any kind of illness can make managing diabetes more difficult. That in itself can lead to complications.“
Larkin added, “Having diabetes is also emotionally taxing and financially burdensome — and even more so during a pandemic, as routines are disrupted and people lose their jobs. For example, without insurance, a vial of insulin can cost more than $300 in the U.S. and many type 1 diabetes patients require multiple vials or pens per month.”
Although the pandemic brought some relief from insulin manufacturers in the form of reduced prices, Larkin shared that the cost of insulin in the U.S. is a source of stress for people living with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. “I’m constantly thinking about my supplies and how to ensure I’ll continue to be able to get them going forward.”
Why MedicAlert is a go-to for living with type 1 diabetes
One of the reasons Larkin said she’s worn a MedicAlert ID for most of the 26 years she’s been living with type 1 diabetes, is that “A lot of other medical IDs just include the most basic information — your condition or an emergency contact, for example. Having a MedicAlert ID and membership means emergency responders can immediately access important information that could help with my treatment. My healthcare team’s contact information, past surgeries and hospitalizations, and key medication dosing – all with a single phone call! The time it saves could literally mean the difference between life and death in some situations.
MedicAlert IDs and a sense of comfort, even during a pandemic
Anyone diagnosed with type I diabetes should wear a medical ID, since drastic changes in blood sugar can be dangerous. In particular, low blood sugar, especially 54 mg/dl or lower, can cause a person to pass out. This can prevent a person from being able to share details about their care with first responders in an emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Larkin’s additional time spent at home with her fiancé didn’t change her use of a MedicAlert ID.
“I still wear my MedicAlert ID at home, when I drive anywhere, or exercise around our neighborhood. It gives me comfort. I know that if I ever need emergency care and either my fiancé wasn’t with me or we were separated at the hospital, there’s a quick way to access all of the key information about my medical needs,” Larkin said.
She continued, “I have two IDs, actually: a silver pendant necklace and a gold bracelet that I rotate depending on what I’m wearing. The gold bracelet actually reminds me of my grandmother, who wore the same style ID for an allergy. People often compliment me on its “vintage” look. She used to tuck tissues into the wrist side of hers in case she needed one!”
Source: Diabetes Association of America
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes, which is more common than type 1 diabetes, can often be controlled or reversed with diet, exercise, and/or medication. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin. This hormone helps our bodies convert food into energy. Common symptoms include extreme thirst, extreme fatigue, and sudden weight loss. Larkin experienced all of these before she was diagnosed 26 years ago.
“Unfortunately, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes. Amazing organizations like JDRF, the American Diabetes Association, and the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation are working to find one,” Larkin tells us. “Until they do, I’m extremely grateful for the diabetes technology that helps me manage my diabetes on a day-to-day basis.”
How MedicAlert supports living your best life
In her role at work, Larkin explained that she typically travels a lot. In that setting, she said her MedicAlert ID feels like a lifeline. This is especially true if she’s in a foreign place or driving alone. “I always let those I’m traveling with know that I’m wearing my ID, just in case something happens, diabetes-related or otherwise. An extreme low blood sugar episode, for example, could very quickly impair my ability to communicate. So it alleviates some stress knowing that others can find my emergency medical information and contacts easily if they needed to.”
Trusting MedicAlert to communicate important information
Larkin shared, “Thankfully, I’ve never had an episode in which I’ve required care from emergency medical responders, but I typically wear my IDs in places they’d be most likely to check if they were treating me. When I wear my ID bracelet, I wear it on my left wrist, over my pulse. If I wear my necklace, the pendant is near my heart. Many things feel very unpredictable right now, but my ID is something I can rely on.“