Growing up, I remember watching my mom prick her fingers, give insulin shots and suffer frightening low blood sugars in the middle of the night. As a result, I learned quickly about the dangers of diabetes, and my own personal risk for developing it due to our family history.
But on the flip side, I’ve also seen the positive effects diabetes has had on her life — and her patients. I’ve answered the phone many times to a scared patient looking for counsel from my mother — a woman they see as not only a nurse, but someone who knows what it feels like to have diabetes.
My mom is an inspiration to me because she doesn’t let her illness define her, instead she uses her experiences to make a difference – choosing to be both an advocate of diabetes awareness and a diabetes educator at LifeScan Animas to give patients like herself a helping hand in managing their disease.
In honor of American Diabetes Alert Day, a one-day “wake up call” for learning your risk of diabetes, I asked my mom about her journey with diabetes — from her diagnosis and how it influenced her decision to become a diabetes educator at LifeScan Animas, to how her experiences have shaped where she is today, both personally and professionally. Ladies and gentlemen, my beautiful mother, Beth Ginck:
“I don’t know what else I would have been, if not a nurse. I knew from a young age that I would go to nursing school, but what I wasn’t able to predict was that I’d become a patient myself.
I was diagnosed with diabetes at age 19, while I was still in nursing school. My family doctor thought I had type 2 and started me on medication, but it didn’t take me long to realize my blood sugars weren’t coming down. I remember crying and trying to look at food labels but not knowing what I was looking for. I was sent to an endocrinologist, who diagnosed me as type 1 and immediately put me on insulin.
To my relief, I also saw a diabetes dietician, who put me on a diet plan and a diabetes educator nurse, who trained me how to give insulin and told me that I could get a meter for easier blood sugar testing. These two diabetes specialists were the turning point for me, not only in my own diabetes care, but also in my career path.”
But my mom’s struggle wasn’t over. Three years after being diagnosed, a surprise pregnancy (this is the part where I come in) threatened her health.
“Being pregnant and diabetic presents a whole new set of concerns. At first you’re excited to be pregnant… and then you worry for nine months.
When diabetics are trying to have a baby, they should first ensure that their own health and blood sugars are stable — but because this was an unexpected pregnancy, I didn’t have the chance to prepare. I couldn’t feel my blood sugar drop like I used to and one night while working swing shifts, I ended up in the ER.
After that, my doctor banished me from night shift and brought me in for frequent check-ups – sometimes twice a week. At one of those appointments, a month before my due date, I mentioned I didn’t seem to need as much insulin as I had before. The doctor took this as a sign – the baby was ready. They tried to induce labor for three days, but while I suffered labor-like pains, nothing happened. On my fourth day in the hospital, I was finally in labor, but the baby wouldn’t budge. I was eventually sent for an emergency c-section, and my daughter was finally born.
We were very lucky to have a healthy child and that I was still healthy – and that’s why we decided to stop at one.”
At this point in our interview I stopped writing and looked up at my mother. “Isn’t there anything else you want to say?” She smiled and replied, “You were worth all the pain and suffering.”
“Today, I am using my personal experience to help new and inexperienced patients find their way, through my job at LifeScan Animas. I understand the value of education for people with diabetes and how important knowledge is for any chronic illness. Seeing an educator or a doctor a few times a year helps you stay on track, but if you don’t have the skills to manage your disease daily, it’s hard to be successful. You don’t get a break from diabetes — you have to learn how to live with it every day.
I love my job because I’m able to provide the education patients need to live their lives to the fullest, despite having an illness. When patients see I wear an insulin pump too, they know I understand, and it gives me credibility. In 2009, I was introduced via email to a six-year-old with diabetes. She was excited to hear I had a pink insulin pump, just like hers. She didn’t know anyone else with diabetes, and seeing my pump made her realize she wasn’t alone. We quickly became email pen pals, and she and her family invited me to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Gala that April to meet them in person.
The best part of my job is working with somebody who doesn’t think they can do the insulin pump and then watching the transformation take place. I’ve done insulin pump trainings for everyone — from a five-week-old baby to an 82-year-old woman – giving them the confidence and knowledge they need to better manage their diabetes. An insulin pump can give patients more freedom and flexibility and make them feel more like someone who doesn’t have diabetes. I think when you have diabetes yourself you have a passion for it because you know what people go through – you share in their downfalls and their triumphs.
I love to see the look on patients’ faces or hear the excitement in their voices when they get the hang of it for the first time. Because it changes their life so much, patients usually take the time to tell you, and those are the best days – for them, and for me.”
Beth Ginck is a Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), for Lifescan Animas, part of the Diabetes Care Franchise (DCF) within Johnson & Johnson. In her current position as a Senior Clinical Business Manager she is responsible for promotion and sales of Animas and DCF products to patients, as well as recruiting, training, evaluating and mentoring Clinical Pump Consultants to ensure compliant care and education within the territory. In addition, Beth provides education to patients and healthcare professionals on the all DCF products and services. She has been training patients on the use of insulin pumps for 13 years and speaks on all aspects related to diabetes. In addition, she volunteers at diabetes camps and also works with local and national diabetes organizations to improve the lives of people living with diabetes.
Kelsey Ginck is a Global Fellow in Corporate Communications at Johnson & Johnson. She works primarily on the social media team doing community management for the corporate Facebook page and content creation across the various J&J channels. Kelsey is a Penn State alumna currently working towards her master’s degree in health communication at Rutgers University.