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July 2010 newsletter feature: Diabetics doing it for themselves

By Sue Marshall

Since I began writing product information for Desang I’ve come across a wide and interesting range of things, but the ones that really intrigued me were those created by other people with diabetes.

Allow me to explain my background. Having been diagnosed as having Type 1 diabetes in 1972 I went on to spend my working life in journalism, but maintained an interest in diabetes care, finally concluding that I wanted a simple useful way to carry all my ‘kit’ about with me. That lead me to design the Desang range of kitbags. From that point on I have enmeshed myself in the specific world of diabetes management products.

We diabetics do tend to talk our own language sometimes, rattling on about hypos, blood test results and your HbA1c…. Sometimes it’s easy to think that non-diabetics simply can’t understand what it’s like to live with diabetes. It’s only living with it day-in, day-out that you see the need for a kitbag, or an injection reminder, or wish that someone, somewhere could help you out with advice about where to get information.

I view my Desang website as an ‘information centre’ for people with diabetes. I’ve focused on putting an online directory in place. I wanted to do so partly as I want to know what’s out there as I have diabetes and there might be great tools that I’ve not heard about, and partly because no-one else seemed to have done this in the UK. Due to designing the kitbags, I’ve need to know what products would fit into them – as most people get given their kit for free from GPs and clinics. Therefore kitbag designs had to fit around that fact.

But while I think offers a lot of what a person with diabetes might need, I stand in awe of the other souls out there who have put their backs into bringing a website into the world or some other useful product or service that can help others living with diabetes.  Here I’ve had the opportunity to speak other diabetics who’ve either designed a product, resourced an ingredient or put forward a service that only a fellow diabetic could truly appreciate.

Sarah Steel was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2005. Married with one child, she had the idea for the website ‘diabetic friend’ in December 2008. She says, “I had an awful lot of information to deal with when I was diagnosed, I was bogged down and felt that I wanted key facts. I thought if I could concentrate on the basics at first then I would look in to matters in greater detail as I went along. I met with a local web design company in Manchester,“ she says, “who got the ideas out of my head but it was the following summer the thought something was ready to be shown to other people.”

The result is a lovely, clear easy-to-use website that not only lists Sarah’s story and her blog but also a forum, a ‘key facts’ section, another on carb-counting, an online food diary, food search and weekly recipe. To access some of the areas you need to sign up as a ‘best friend’, at a cost of £20 per year. As with any website, Sarah’s will always need updating. “It’s hard to find time,” she says, “but it is necessary because things change all the time and there is lots of information out there that needs to be considered for inclusion. My aim is not necessarily to make a profit but to cover the cost of hosting, maintaining and improving the site. Any excess will be donated to charity.”

As a result of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes eight years ago, Stephen Taylor set about writing a software programme that would help him to assess how his control was going. At the time, Stephen was working in Kettering at a further education college teaching general sciences. With the diabetes diagnosis, a background in science, with a talent for programming websites, the day came when Stephen felt compelled to put together a solution to a problem that he found himself coming up against. He explains, “When I started blood testing more frequently I did not know of a good way to get an overview my readings. It seemed sensible to be able to see, assess then understand and address my results myself, but I didn’t want to have to use specific software and download cables and what-not that came with the different meters. I just wanted something simple that I could stick with and show my results in a way that was useful and made sense to me.”

My Glucose Level is the result. Any user goes online and plugs in their results to their own account. This account can be accessed by whomever you give permission to – a partner, or a healthcare provider – letting them see trends at a glance.  Simple to use and access, it might be just the thing for those who do test, but are not testing as frequently as most people on insulin are encouraged to.

Read more about our entrepreneurial community in the next issue of the Desang newsletter.

This article originally appeared in Sweet magazine in April 2010.

Further reading:

www.diabeticfriend.co.uk

www.mysugarlevel.co.uk

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