Modern Technology and Old-Fashioned Discipline Help Control Diabetes
Rachel Bleshenski knows that managing her type 1 diabetes will be a life-long job, but she doesn’t let it interfere with achieving her dreams.
Rachael Bleshenski has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 20 years. And she's only 24.
Bleshenski was 13 months old when she was initially diagnosed. She remembers feeling different as a young child. “I had to have a special diet and special help at school,” she said. “I had to grow up fast and be responsible.”
At 13 years old, she moved from traditional injections to an insulin pump. “I was ready to try something new, something that could better help me,” she said. “It works really well and gives me some flexibility.”
As she moved though her teen years, Bleshenski experienced the typical teenage anxieties and issues. However, being insulin dependent meant she was not a typical teenager.
During her junior year in high school, she experienced an episode of neuropathy that became a wake-up call.
“I was on the soccer field when it happened,” she said. “It felt like a million needles were sticking in my leg.”
When she followed up with a doctor at another organization, she was taken aback. “They were blunt. They said, ‘Take better care of yourself or you will develop neuropathy.’”
She took the warning to heart. “I changed my behavior. I started checking my blood sugar more often, and I was more diligent about food and insulin,” Bleshenski said.
She continues to diligently monitor her health, but it’s not always easy. In 2015, she was having repeated episodes of low blood sugar – hypoglycemia. Bleshenski was referred to Endocrinologist Sujay Madduri, M.D., at MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland. At the time, she was a full-time student at Ferris State University and worked part-time at a pharmacy in her home town of Bay City.
“At her first visit, I realized she had multiple and severe hypoglycemic episodes which were adversely affecting her diabetes control and overall quality of life,” Dr. Madduri said.
To help her control hypoglycemia, Dr. Madduri suggested she try Continuous Glucose Monitoring – or CGM. It works through a tiny sensor inserted under the skin that measures glucose every few minutes, day and night. A transmitter wirelessly sends the information to a monitor – in Bleshenski’s case, her smart phone. She can see her glucose level with just a glance and review changes over a few hours or days to see trends.
“Seeing glucose levels in real-time can help her make more informed decisions about food and activity,” Dr. Madduri said.
It also helped her analyze what preceded or triggered low blood sugar events. “Stress was a big trigger for me, so I had to manage it,” Bleshenski said. “I’ve found that exercise is a great way to relieve stress. I go to the gym or run.”
For Bleshenski, using the glucose monitor was a turning point. “It allows me to be proactive rather than reactive,” she said. “The accuracy is incredible. I can make changes on the go and it’s more discreet looking at my cell phone rather than pulling out my meter.”
For Dr. Madduri, the proof is in the numbers. “She now has minimal and mild hypoglycemic episodes or none at all,” he said. “Additionally, her recent A1c was at 6.5%. This is her best A1c in the last 22 years.”
Dr. Madduri added that while Bleshenski’s results are dramatic, they are achievable. “I want other patients with diabetes to know that this level of control is possible with diligence and currently available technology.”
Bleshenski knows that managing diabetes will be a life-long job. However, she does not let it interfere with achieving her dreams. In spring of 2018, she was awarded a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and graduated with high honors.
“When you have diabetes, you’re externally doing the job of an internal organ and that is not an easy task. It involves a lot of trial and error,” Bleshenski said. “To anyone who is struggling with diabetes, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are lots of tools available that make the disease easier to manage.”
MidMichigan Health has endocrinologists and diabetes educators in multiple locations who help people with diabetes take control of their illness so they can live full and active lives. Those who would like to learn more may visit www.midmichigan.org/diabetes.