We're happy to feature one more of our 2014 DiabetesMine Patient Voices Scholarship Contest winners today -- another empowered advocate who'll be attending our Innovation Summit in November.

Meet fellow type 1 Heather Gabel, who's been featuredHeather Gabel photo here at the 'Mine during the past year thanks to all her awesome advocacy work -- including founding a mentoring program for kids and young adults called Beta Connect.  Many of us in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) know Heather through her previous work at the Diabetes Hands Foundation, her personal blog, and of course her beloved dog Lancet The Pug! She's from California like me, but her recent move to Arizona has opened up a new chapter in her life.

We're excited to welcome Heather back with a brief Q&A updating us on her work, and what led her to becoming one of our Patient Voices winners!

 

DM) We always like to start off learning the story behind your start with diabetes...

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HG) I was diagnosed at 11 years old in 2001. {Editor's Note: we feel old!} I had all the usual and terrifying symptoms, extreme weight loss, frequent trips to the bathroom, needing as much water as I did air. It was new to my family, and as much as I liked being a leader, this wasn't a frontier I was happy to traverse. Luckily, I found a lot of support in my family and beyond.

How did you get involved in D-advocacy?

My diabetes advocacy began in my senior year of college at UC Berkeley. I started an organization dedicated to implementing youth mentorship programs in local hospitals (see Beta Connect). From there, I began work at the Diabetes Hands Foundation (DHF) post graduation in 2012. Working there helped me to fully realize the strength of the diabetes community, online and off. Since, I have become a member of the Diabetes Advocates, began attending diabetes conferences, created and maintained a diabetes blog, become friends with many people in the DOC, and rooted my interest in research within the diabetes field. I'll be attending the Medicine X conference at Stanford as an e-Patient Scholar in September, along with fellow advocates Scott Strange, Kim Vlasnik, and Chris Snider. And in March I will be on the team of facilitators for the Diabetes UnConference in Las Vegas.

That's exciting! Is this your main gig now?Well, I recently got engaged, and moved to Arizona to be with my fiancé. I now work at a brewery and online on various diabetes-related projects, including of course my diabetes blog, Unexpected Blues.Congrats on that! We were wondering, what did you learn from your time working at the non-profit DHF?It would not be exaggerating to say that working at Diabetes Hands Foundation taught me everything I know about diabetes advocacy, including the assertion that there is always more to learn and in that vein, more to accomplish. The two most important aspects of advocacy I learned while there is that our community is full and strong and that self-identifying as an advocate is the first step toward joining the collective mission.
So how do you define "patient advocate" in your mind?Anyone who looks critically at their care as a patient and vocalizes the strengths and downfalls of it is a patient advocate, in my eyes. It doesn't matter whether the issue is improving technology, getting improved tech into more hands, addressing psychosocial barriers to personal health and well-being, or some other focus area. Anyone looking to help improve life with and care for people with any chronic illness is a patient advocate.We've heardHeather Gabel and Lancet the Pug you're also working on a project relating to emotions and blood sugars... can you share more on that?Yes, I recently began a research/art project called The BG Feels. I am collecting emotional and blood glucose data from members in the Diabetes Online Community for one-week periods and searching for correlations between overall feeling/emotion/disposition and blood glucose level. I plan to showcase any results I find on a website via info-graphic and testimony after my collection period and analysis is complete. Further, I plan to create a large art piece describing the correlations and share it throughout the DOC.  I'd like to keep up the effort and eventually offer personalized data compilation, analysis, and creative showcasing. If anyone is interested in becoming involved, I'd love for them to email me at heather@betaconnect.org for more information.

OK, we have to ask you about Lancet the Pug... what's the story behind that little pup's name?

Mike Lawson at the Diabetes Hands Foundation and I both LOVE pugs. I was ready for a puppy and when I told Mike, he was (of course) all for it! When I started looking for 'the one', Mike and I brainstormed names. We probably came up with 40-50 names, and the last one that made the list was Lancet. Mike drove with me to pick him up and as soon as I saw my wiggly, eye-contact confident, attitude-full pup, I was sure that Lancet would be his name. In the car, Mike suggested that he ought to be a Sir, and so I doth named him: Sir Lancet The Pug. (#LancetThePug)

You've got a lot going on... So what inspired you to enter our Patient Voices Contest?I attended the DiabetesMine Innovation Summit last year on behalf of the Diabetes Hands Foundation and it was unlike any other conference I'd been to before. The patient voices were present and strong. In fact, the patients essentially directed where the conversation would go. If I was so bold as to say, history was made. I watched and I listened and I learned. Who wouldn't want to be a part of a movement integrating the patient voice?!

What kind of hopes and expectations do you have going into this year's Innovation Summit?Patient Voices Logo 2014

I hope that as a collective group of patient voices, we can bring something vital to the conversation as I saw occur last year. I would like to to add something that other attendees wouldn't have access to in a conference that didn't invite and promote the patient perspective so artfully. As one of those patient voices, I hope to be a part of the shaping of the collective. I want to lend my experiences and articulate self-awareness to the group dynamic.

How can this kind of advocacy potentially make a real-world impact?

We have a chance to make our lives and the lives of other people with diabetes better. Right now, companies are more widely including patient perspectives in their product design, testing, and marketing campaigns. We can help producers of the technologies that we use daily to survive improve their products to be easier and more efficient for us. A cure might be close, but in the meantime there is a ton of work to do towards the goal of improving quality of life for people with diabetes.

 

We couldn't agree more, Heather! That is of course the goal of our DiabetesMine Test Kitchen program overall.  We can't wait to see you at the Summit this Fall.

 
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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.