We continue to feature the excellent group of fellow PWDs chosen as winners of the 2014 DiabetesMine Patient Voices Scholarship Contest -- who will all be attending our Innovation Summit at Stanford University on scholarship this November.

Today, we're excited to introduce Greg Nickleski, a 30-something type 1 who hails from the southwest suburbs of Chicago butGreg N is getting ready to move to Miami, FL. Diagnosed just four years ago, Greg left an engineering education following his diagnosis to pursue a medical degree, with hopes of becoming an endocrinologist. We were happy to have Greg submit a review of the new, smaller OmniPod for the DiabetesMine Test Kitchen, and now it's great to connect to learn more about what makes him tick.

DM) Greg, please tell us first about your diagnosis experience...

GN) My 34th birthday is on Sept. 21, so I've been living with diabetes for about four years now. At the time I was 30 and in the process of trying to go back to college to finish my degree in engineering. My grades where great but I was having a lot of trouble waking up for early classes and then actually staying awake for them. I started losing a lot of weight and was always thirsty and had to go to the bathroom frequently.

I was scared to go find out what was wrong with me. I thought I was dying but I didn't really want to know from what. My father had died just two years before at the age of 55 from cirrhosis of the liver among several other conditions, possibly diabetes as well. A short time before his death his symptoms seemed to be similar to mine. My wife ended up dragging me kicking and screaming to find out what was wrong with me. When I first saw the doctor, he told me that my options were: either I had cancer, H.I.V., or diabetes. I guess I was really sick, and looking back, I think I got the best out of those options. My blood glucose level was over 800, so the doctor wanted me hospitalized immediately. I started off self-injecting with the Novolog Flexpen and Lantus Flexpen and instantly felt better. No more running to the bathroom all night and at dinner. I now use the OmniPod tubeless insulin pump system, and it has made my life 100% more bearable!

What impact did your diagnosis have on your goals and career plans?

When I got diagnosed with diabetes, it changed my whole life. I want to change professions now and go back to school to get into the medical field concerning Endocrinology, and more specifically type 1 diabetes. We are currently in the process of relocating to Florida, and I will be returning to school when we get there to pursue a degree in the medical field.

 

So did you end up using your engineering education at all — maybe for diabetes device hacking? 

As of right now, I am laid off, but as noted, plan to return to school to finish my degree in a field directly involved with diabetes. I never did finish my engineering degree, and no, I've not yet "hacked" my OmniPod PDM.

That said, I've always worked in the welding and fabrication fields, so building things better has always been an interest of mine. I have seen the CGM In the Cloud efforts and would like to know if OmniPod plans to get involved in anything like that. {Editor's Note: Open-source Tidepool is in talks with OmniPod creator Insulet.}

We understand your wife is an excellent Type Awesome who helps out quite a bit with diabetes...

My wife Vicki is a pharmacist and she has really been my guiding light in the respects of wanting to help others get healthier and educate others about their conditions or ailments. She keeps me informed about all my medication side effects and makes sure the prescriptions are always correct. Besides all her pharmaceutical knowledge, her father's also a diabetic so she can tell when my blood sugar is high or low by just looking at me. She really has had a lot of life experience with this, considering her medical schooling and her father's type 2 diabetes and also her mom has Parkinson's disease. She's the one that made me want to educate myself about these different diseases and become more involved in such things as the Michael J. Fox Foundation (for Parkinson's) and the American Diabetes Association.

How have you been involved in the Michael J. Fox Foundation?

Since Vicki's mother has Parkinson's disease, that got her started doing walks and raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. This led me to look into what was available to help fund research to cure diabetes, and I found that the American Diabetes Association had a program that was very similar so I started raising money and walking for the ADA Step Out program and JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes. My birthday is Sept. 21st , which happens to fall on the the same day this year as the ADA's Step Out to Cure Diabetes Walk in Grant Park (Chicago). I'm currently raising money for that walk and am excited to be a part of it for the first time this year.

 

Aside from interests in engineering and diabetes, what else do you want to share about yourself?

 

I have been a drag racer my whole life, and I've driven a number of race cars over the years. I do like to show some of those pics to other diabetics to not put limitations on themselves because of their condition. I've just recently put racing on the back burner until I finish my degree and pursue becoming an endocrinologist.

What inspired you to enter our Patient Voices Contest?

Once diagnosed, I knew this is what I needed to focus my future on. This disease has broken me at points, but at the same time made me who I am today, which is a stronger more focused and energized version of myself. My wife inspired me to start believing that I could make a difference for people with this disease.

How do you define "patient advocate"?

I think "patient advocate" means someone who can make a difference in everyday lives of diabetics worldwide and is looking out for ways to live better with our condition. This includes educating people about the symptoms and signs of diabetes. Another important role is to teach people about new and upcoming products that will be available to the public. A good patient advocate should lead people by example -- showing that mixing cardiovascular workouts with a carbohydrate-controlled, but not tasteless diet, can be enjoyable while saving your life. I believe that a patient advocate should also be a motivational leader involved with groups meant to deal with diabetic depression and burnout. Someone has to stand up for the well-being and rights of people affected by diabetes.

What kind of advocacy work have you been part of?

I've started my own online group called BETES(AID) - DIABETIC SUPPORT GROUP on Facebook. I made this group to be able to share my daily struggles and to create a place where people with the same daily struggles can come together and not feel so alone. I also use this site to share information about new and upcoming products, along with recipes, and in the future I plan to post some workout plans and meal recommendations. And of course I'll also be participating in and raising money for the ADA's Step Out Walk.

What would you most like to experience at the DiabetesMine Innovation Summit?Patient Voices Logo 2014

I want to see the newest technology and pharmaceutical advances available for diabetes. I am also looking forward to learning about what is currently being researched and in the pipeline for the future.

How can participating in an event like this make a difference?

Anything that teaches me more about dealing with my condition is a benefit and an experience that I will share with everyone. I think meeting the companies and people involved with research and development dealing with early diabetes detection, daily diabetic products and the search for a cure will reinforce my conviction that I need to be more involved with endocrinology and the medical field in general.

 

Thanks, Greg! We look forward to seeing you in November, and of course hearing how the move to a new state and kickoff of your medical studies plays out.

 
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.