When Isabella Pileggi was 8 years old, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition in which the pancreas no longer produces the hormone insulin, which is necessary to convert glucose into energy.
Although there is no cure for the condition, it can be managed by carefully monitoring Pileggi’s diet and blood glucose levels throughout the day, and administering appropriate doses of insulin to keep those levels within a normal range.
For children with type 1 diabetes, this can be a stressful way of life—for both the patients and their parents.
But kids like Pileggi now have a new tool to help manage type 1 diabetes: the Animas® Vibe® Insulin Pump and Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) System.
The system is comprised of a pump that delivers insulin, as well as a sensor and transmitter that obtains glucose readings from under the skin every few minutes. Those readings are then sent wirelessly to the pump, alerting users if readings are trending low or high, so they can better manage their diabetes.
In January 2016, the FDA expanded the approved age indication for the Animas® Vibe® System, making it the only CGM-enabled insulin pump in the U.S. approved for patients as young as 2.
When Pileggi was 9, she started using the Animas® Vibe® System*, so we sat down with the now 11-year-old and her mom, Vicki, to see just how it has changed their quality of life.
What was it like to find out you had type 1 diabetes?
Isabella: Just before I was diagnosed, I didn’t really feel like myself for a few weeks. I was always tired. I’d get home from school and all I wanted to do was sleep. I was also constantly thirsty.
I went to the hospital for lots of tests and that’s when I heard the diagnosis for the first time. I was really scared. And once I learned more about the disease, I didn’t want to go to school. I was nervous about checking my blood sugar levels and figuring out what to do when my parents weren’t around to help me.
How did the diagnosis impact your daily life?
Isabella: The eating, blood sugar testing and sleep schedule I had to follow was a nightmare. I had to wake up at 7:00 in the morning, check my blood glucose levels and get an injection in my arm or tummy, and then eat at 7:30. When I got to school, I had to have a snack at 9:00, lunch at 11:30, and another snack at 2:00 in the afternoon. Oh, and I had to give myself another injection at lunch that would hopefully carry me through the rest of the day.
I couldn’t attend sleepovers at my friends’ houses anymore because my mom had to make sure I had dinner at 5:30, and then give me an injection of rapid-acting insulin, followed by another injection of long-acting insulin that would hopefully take me through the night.
This pump has given all of us so much freedom. In the year after Isabella’s diagnosis, we didn’t go anywhere. After the pump, we went to Disney World!
Vicki: As Isabella’s mom, it was really hard on a lot of levels. I cried every day that first month after her diagnosis, when I was sent home from the hospital with orders to just keep my child alive.
That was such a frightening thought because there are so many variables that impact blood glucose, and injections are a fairly crude way of trying to administer insulin, especially for a child.
During that first year, we didn’t go on vacation, and Isabella couldn’t socialize with friends like she used to. I turned into a total helicopter mom.
What is it like to use the pump?
Isabella: It’s just a little device that my mom attaches to me with something called an infusion set. We change where it’s attached every three days so it doesn’t get infected. It’s so small that I barely know it’s there.
The pump is attached to me 24/7 so my life is a lot easier because I can make insulin adjustments just by pushing a few buttons. I actually get to sleep in on Saturday mornings! It’s not that the insulin injections were so bad—you get used to them—but it’s so much easier not to have to be on a strict schedule based on when I have to get my insulin.
Do your friends treat you differently now that you have diabetes?
Isabella: For the most part, we don’t really talk about it. They know that I can’t eat things like gummy worms without thinking about how the carbohydrates will affect my body. So when they want to have something, they’ll hand the package to me before opening it to see if I can have it, too.
Thanks to my pump, the only real rules I have to follow now are to watch my carbs and to always have stuff like juice with me in case my blood sugars go low. Other than that, life is no different than it once was before my diagnosis, which is really cool.
What’s been the best thing about having the pump?
Isabella: Within the first six months of getting my pump, I had about five sleepovers because I finally wasn’t tied to such a strict schedule.
The system monitors my glucose levels at all times and alerts me when it’s too high or low, so I can respond as needed. The pump helps me calculate the exact amount of insulin that I need, and I can do it without my mom or dad having to help me. Life is a lot easier now without all of those needles—not only for me, but my family, too.
Vicki: This pump has given all of us so much freedom. In the year after Isabella’s diagnosis, we didn’t go anywhere. After the pump, we went to Disney World!
Plus, all the people in Isabella’s life—my husband and me, Isabella’s sister and grandparents, her teachers, her friends’ moms—are so much less worried about watching her. With the pump, she has everything she needs to manage her diabetes on her own. I’m no longer a helicopter mom!
* Health Canada granted approval of the pediatric indication of the Animas® Vibe® System in August of 2014. Isabella and her family reside in Milton, Ontario, Canada.