As we continue featuring our 2017 DiabetesMine Patient Voices Scholarship Contest winners (who will attend our annual DiabetesMine Innovation Summit this Fall) we're excited today to introduce Maria Wagner, a twenty-something who has been living with type 1 for over a decade.
She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, and now lives in Raleigh, NC, where she works at a special endocrinology clinic and gets to use her personal diabetes know-how to help kids and families.
A diabetes camp alum herself, Maria knows the benefits of peer support and hopes to channel the magic of the Diabetes Community into more tech solutions that fill the psychosocial gaps seen so often in diabetes care.
With that, here's our recent Q&A with Maria...
An Interview with Maria Wagner
DM) Thanks for taking the time, Maria! Can you start (as per usual) by sharing your diagnosis story?
MW) I was diagnosed when I was 10 years old. I can remember eating excessively, and waking up multiple times in the night to drink from the sink. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had lost a lot of weight and it must have looked concerning to my mom. I enjoyed bike rides with my dad and sisters, but I remember telling my dad that I didn’t have the energy to finish the bike ride. My mom pulled me from school after getting a phone call from the doctor and took me straight to the hospital.
I don’t remember too much of my diagnosis day, but I do remember crying a lot, and learning how to give myself injections and checking my blood sugar. I had no idea how sick I was! I was just busy being a kid. I do remember being upset that I had no choice but to check my blood sugar and give multiple injections. But I quickly learned to accept my new lifestyle at a very young age.
What's it like being a registered nurse in a pediatric endo clinic, and how does your own T1D play into your professional role?
Working at a pediatric diabetes clinic has been a goal of mine for many years. I didn't always want to be a nurse. When I was 13 years old, I actually wanted to be a fashion designer. But as I got older, I found myself loving to help others, to heal others, and to teach others. (Of course I still love to draw, sketch and paint in my free time!) Although my relationship with diabetes was rough in my younger years, I also grew to accept my new life as a diabetic, and eventually LOVE the journey of taking care of myself, and building a career from it. I feel that I finally found my true self when I realized I want to be a diabetes educator.
I pursued nursing because I knew it would be a great beginning to becoming a diabetes educator. I love to bond with the kids in the clinic - to hear their accomplishments and struggles that come along with having type 1 diabetes, and most of all - hearing that they want to pursue a diabetes career in their future because I did. Since I attended my first diabetes camp, I learned quickly that I felt a special bond when I met another type 1 diabetic - and that fire never burns out! I have known for years that this career is right for me. I hope to work with kids with type 1 diabetes for a long time!
What kind of diabetes activities and advocacy are you involved with?
I have been involved with Students with Diabetes and many ADA Tour De Cure rides in the past. In my senior year of high school, I participated in a “Stop Diabetes” video contest and excitedly made the Top 10. I take every chance I get to be involved in the diabetes community! I absolutely love working in endocrinology, especially when I get a chance to connect with the kids with type 1 diabetes. I teach and advocate with every chance I get.
What are biggest changes you've seen in diabetes since your diagnosis?
I have been following Ed Damiano and the "bionic pancreas" project for years now and every time I read an update on that, I get just as excited as I was when I first heard about it! I continuously look for new projects and trials in the diabetes world. All of the advancements that make managing diabetes even slightly easier or more comfortable are worth looking into. From more gentle lancing devices, to continuous glucose monitors, to fun and customizable pump covers and stickers – all of these are so impressive and have become a huge interest of mine!
What do you think are the biggest challenges right now in diabetes innovation?
I know there are so many brilliant people out there with amazing ideas to better the lives of diabetics! I can imagine that a large obstacle is that the technology DOES have a medical function and therefore has many hoops to jump through in order to be approved for the community. So our ideas often cannot be integrated into our everyday lives in a timely manner.
Also (with these innovations), diabetes is not cured, only treated and managed. Still, there are many days that I feel that my CGM has saved my life. I wish these devices could be available for everyone!
What has helped you personally with your diabetes the most?
My life with diabetes changed for the better when I went to my first diabetes camp and met others who shared my struggles. I have come to realize that support is one of the most important things a person can have when they struggle with a chronic disease. Without a support system, the disease can attack you not only physically from exhaustion, but mentally and emotionally.
Is there an innovation around that you might suggest?
My original idea for this particular Innovation Summit was an app or tracker that allows local diabetics to connect throughout the day. This could provide encouragement, reminders, and motivation to care for yourself and look out for others. We all have days when diabetes can truly knock us down and our closest loved ones will listen, but not always understand. It helps to talk to another diabetic who may know exactly what you are going through.
Let’s say I have registered for the app, and it connects me to six other diabetics in the Raleigh area. We can openly discuss our goals, and even share struggles throughout the day. By instantly connecting with others, I feel more motivated to take care of myself – and encourage them to do the same! Maybe I find a diabetes conference and mention this on the app as a “shout out” – this provides a great way for diabetes groups to meet up and attend informational events in their area. Maybe you just had a horrible day of blood sugars and want to reach out to someone who understands. Anything that brings us closer together as a support system is beneficial!
Do you think a social app like that could be useful for the kids you work with in the pediatric clinic, too?
Yes, this also leads me to a similar idea for the pediatric population: An app that allows you to log your blood sugars and make it into a board game! When you reach a goal, or stay within range, you move up the board game spaces. Although I have no idea how to code an app to create one, I think this would be an awesome way for children to feel involved in their care and make it fun for small child to pay attention to blood sugars and learn about ranges and goals. There can be mini games that teach carbohydrate counting and educational facts and questions. You could play with local diabetics in your area -- a great way to connect with other children and families in the diabetes community. I believe that the sooner a child can be involved in their own care, the better they can adapt and learn to manage their diabetes in the future.
You also had an idea for a kind of Stitch Fix-style diabetes box...?
Yes, I thought it would be really cool to create and supply a diabetes subscription box -- either monthly or quarterly -- that would essentially "bring a diabetes community to your door." I would really love to include a newsletter that interviews type 1s, their experiences and their wishes for the D-community. It could also include coupons and vouchers for diabetes products and supplies, as well as samples and full-size products for the customer to enjoy.
This could help small businesses selling diabetes products to be advertised, as well as more well-known diabetes products to be introduced to and enjoyed by customers. With the help of these businesses, I think this could be a popular and well-liked subscription that helps patients to become part of the community, encourage themselves and others to be involved in their care, and to enjoy the latest in diabetes innovations and products. I would love to make this happen someday!
What are you looking forward to at the Fall Innovation Summit?
Connecting with like-minded people! The connection between type 1 diabetes and their loved ones is very powerful, and it helps me to manage my own diabetes knowing I am not the only one who thinks the way I do! I am looking forward to listening to the ideas of others, and learning the latest innovations in the diabetes world.
Thanks for sharing your story, Maria! We look forward to meeting you in person in a few months and talking more about all the possibilities for improvement.