Diabetic children to get insulin pumps

New devices offer welcome alternative to daily injections

Madison Rietvelt was smiling as she showed her new insulin pump on her arm, while holding a variety of the control devices.
Madison Rietvelt was smiling as she showed her new insulin pump on her arm, while holding a variety of the control devices.
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Canadian Diabetes Association

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Friday, April 13, 2012

Like any teenager, Madison Rietvelt wants to hang out with her friends, going dancing and playing sports.

But these are not things Madison can easily do. That's because the 13-year-old girl has Type 1 diabetes, a condition that requires her to constantly monitor her blood glucose levels, receive multiple insulin shots, and watch what she eats. And that makes it difficult to join her friends, whether it be playing a game or just eating the same foods.

Fortunately for Madison, that is about to change. Under a new program unveiled by Health Minister Theresa Oswald, Madison and many children like her will have access to a personal insulin pump, a device about the size of a pager.

The pump, which Madison wears on her arm, will provide her with a steady flow of insulin, making it easier to maintain her blood sugar at the right level.

And that, says Madison, means freedom.

"I won't have to take insulin needles, sometimes seven times a day. They hurt" Madison said during a press conference to unveil the Pediatric Insulin Pump program. "I still have to test my blood glucose levels, and keep track of what I'm eating. But that doesn't bother me as much as the needles."

The covering of the pump is waterproof, so she can swim and play sports with it on. More importantly, the steady flow of insulin will make sure she doesn't languish on the bench any more because her blood glucose levels are too low to keep playing.

"I like to dance and swim and hang out with friends and eat sugary things. My friends are really excited and happy for me. I won't have to stay home and miss out on things,"; Madison said.

Her mother Monica Rietvelt is thrilled with the change, saying she won't miss the days of reminding her daughter to pack her insulin and needles when leaving the house.

"I won't have to constantly ask her if she had done her blood sugar, and how many carbs she's eaten," said Monica. "Before the pump, her life was stressful. Our family life was stressful. Diabetes is a 24/7 disease and she never got a break from it. Having the pump will give us peace of mind, and hopefully help her avoid medical complications down the road. There will be fewer emergency room visits, fewer consultations with her doctors. She now has the potential to live a healthy and happy life."

Many more children like Madison will soon be outfitted with insulin pumps, thanks to the Pediatric Insulin Pump program. There are approximately 530 children in Manitoba with Type 1 diabetes and approximately 25 to 30 per cent of those may be medically eligible for the program.

"The insulin pump may help children and youth with diabetes to lead a more normal and active lifestyle, allowing more flexibility and independence in their daily schedules and a much-improved quality of life," Oswald said during the launch of the program at the Canadian Diabetes Association on Broadway.

For medically eligible users, the province is covering the cost of the pumps, at an average cost of $6,000 to $7,000. In addition, the annual supply costs for the pumps - estimated at $2,000 to $4,000 per person - will continue to be paid for by Pharmacare. This adds up to an annual cost of around $1.5 million, but will lower future health costs by reducing emergency room visits and other medical circumstances. Funding for training and other programming will also be covered by the province.

Insulin pumps are an alternate to multiple daily injections for diabetics. The pumps deliver fast-acting insulin through plastic tubing connected to an insertion point on the body. In some cases, a cartridge of insulin is inserted into the pump, and provides a continuous flow of insulin. Other machines use a small tube to deliver the insulin through to the pump.

insulin pumps

A variety of insulin pumps and control devices.

Children and teens like Madison Rietvelt are trained how to use their new pumps, including how to program in exercise levels and amount of carbohydrates they're eating.

The pump and controller are very sturdy, and are worn by professional athletes.

"They'll stand up to the rough-and-tumble play that kids do," said Dr. Seth Marks, Medical Director of the Winnipeg Health Region's Diabetes Education Resource Centre for Children and Adolescents. "I tell kids they can play hockey while wearing their pump. But, like any mechanical device, they can't lose the controller and learn not to break the pump."

Families interested in the new pediatric insulin pump program should talk to their health-care provider or call the Diabetes Education Resource for Children and Adolescents at 204-787-3011.

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