Hypoglycemia isn't a laughing matter for those of us with diabetes, but a new awareness campaign is trying to put the "Ha!" into low blood sugar recognition and treatment.
Ha!, as in the new org named Hypoglycemia Awareness.
The five-month-old nonprofit is the brainchild of Zoe Heineman, a New York woman who's been living with type 1 for more than a quarter-century. Her hope: to get more people familiar with what low blood sugars are all about and how to treat them, especially when it comes to PWDs (people with diabetes) experiencing hypos while out in public. Because really... it's in those places where we're in the most danger if hypos hit hard, and the people around us may need to spring into action to help to get glucose into our systems quickly.
"My focus in the past couple years has been looking at the state of affairs and situation right now about people not knowing or being trained enough on hypoglycemia, and 'Ha!' is what I came up with," Zoe says. "I imagine myself sitting on a plane or subway, having a hypo, and having to explain that 'Hypo 101' when I'm low and confused and just trying to find something to treat myself."
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 26 years ago as an adult, Zoe says she was living on her own at the time and teaching high school when she started experiencing blurry vision and classic thirst and urination symptoms. That was the late 1980s and that was the impetus for Zoe to become a well-known name and trusted consultant in the Diabetes Community starting in the mid-90s.
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Professionally, she's had her hand in many ventures like dLife and advocating for patient access with the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), and has worked in the industry at companies like Disetronic and then Roche Diagnostics, and with multiple startups along with her consulting work for others like Biodel and the Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance (JDCA). She also created the Diabetes Market group on LinkedIn. All of that has earned her the moniker of the "Diabetes Marketing Maven."
While Zoe's efforts with "Ha!" are still in their infancy, the group's designed September as Hypoglycemia Awareness Month as a way to help educate the public.
With all the stories we see in the news about police not recognizing low blood sugar symptoms, or dangerous school situations or travel woes involving hypoglycemia, it's a time when this type of public awareness is sorely needed.
For Zoe, her own experiences come into play.
She remembers being in a car accident in New Jersey that had nothing to do with diabetes, but she wanted to her blood sugar checked just to know where it was in case someone tried to blame the incident on her being a type 1 diabetic. But the emergency medical responders in the ambulance weren't allowed to give her injections like glucagon, or even do simple tasks like poke her finger for a blood test.
"That made me think about what happens if someone is in that situation out in public," she said. "Time is critical in those situations, and if EMTs aren't able to recognize or treat hypos, then it falls to those people around us. Before the ambulance even gets to you, those people become the first responders."
The G Icon
So much in the Diabetes Community revolves around the letter G as it relates to hypoglycemia, Zoe explains: glucagon in its current form, novel glucagon being developed, glucose tablets, glucose gels, and just the idea of fast-acting glucose. So G was a natural fit for a universal icon, she says.
Zoe's vision is that PWDs everywhere -- whether you're on a New York subway or walking the streets of your own city -- could just look around for a magenta G icon to signal where emergency glucagon or glucose is located. Someday, Zoe hopes this G could become as visible a symbol for medical treatment as those emergency defibrillators you see hanging on walls in public places and businesses to treat heart attacks.
"If most Americans don't know what hypoglycemia is, they won't recognize these products or when they need to be used. The responsibility falls on the person with diabetes to be the trainer right now, and we want to empower more people when it comes to hypoglycemia," Zoe says.
For this initial Hypoglycemia Awareness Month, she says the main focus is on raising awareness about the G icon -- giving out stickers, and asking the online community to help spread the word. Specifically, if you get a sticker, Zoe wants you to take a picture or selfie of where you put that sticker, to help more people see it's being embraced.
For the rest of 2014, Zoe's goal: 10,000 people displaying and being aware of the G icon. They'll also be kicking off the hashtag #SeeMyG on Twitter to keep the conversation going online.
So why choose magenta as the color?
"It was very scientific," Zoe laughs, telling us a conversation with GlucoLift founder Christopher Angell is largely responsible for that choice. They discussed how magenta can be accepted by both men and women, and since both blue and red are colors already recognized in association with existing D-initiatives -- the Blue Circle, and logos like the ADA's red blood drop -- the pair thought magenta would be unique and memorable.
"The idea is this symbol can give you peace of mind that there's glucose around you right there, if you need it," she says.
Running for Awareness
Along with spreading word about the G icon, Zoe tells us Ha! is hosting a number of events and awareness activities -- the first being a kickoff event this past Saturday where they brought in fellow type 1 Gavin Griffiths from the UK, who's known as the "Diathlete" (and whom we profiled earlier this year).
Gavin's actually visiting the U.S. for a series of marathon runs across the country to support the diabetes nonprofit Marjorie's Fund; he just kicked off a week-long "Manhattan Marathon" that involves running 26.2 miles a day around New York City and Long Island. His run is sponsored by Dexcom, and Gavin is wearing a G4 continuous glucose sensor during his marathons in New York, Minneapolis, Miami, San Diego and San Francisco through Oct. 7.
But his very first stop on the ultra-marathon tour in the States was to help promote Ha! at an event organized by Zoe's group.
That event with Gavin is just one event that Ha! is hosting in September, working with many existing D-groups as well as emergency first responders like police and paramedics (sorely needed!) to help them learn to better recognize the signs of hypoglycemia. That involves everything from the G icon to handing out information about what hypo symptoms look like and how they can be treated, to urging the American Red Cross to weave hypo-training in to their first aid programs. And there might even be a move down the road to examine whether people can somehow be certified to treat hypos on the spot, if needed.
From NY on Out
Just starting out, the group is creating an advisory board made up of PWDs, educators, clinicians and other stakeholders to reach out and identify what needs to be done.
"New York is the first place that Ha! is starting because that's where I am and there are so many of us here, not to mention all the visitors we have who may be commuting, shopping and just visiting NYC and experiencing hypos while here," Zoe said. "Rather than taking on the world at the start, we are starting here and hoping to grow."
One of those supporting the group is GlucoLift's Angell, who's based in San Diego, CA, who says he's exploring the best ways to support Ha! and the G icon initiative on the West Coast. Reducing the burden of low blood sugars is what both are all about, he says, and so he's looking forward to supporting Ha! in its push for greater public awareness. That may include incorporating the G icon into GlucoLift marketing or packaging somehow, but no decisions have been made on that yet.
Zoe says many others in the D-Community have already voiced their support of the group's efforts -- from the New York office of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), to the JDRF, ADA and Children With Diabetes. Meanwhile, they're trying to get word out more generally, working with regional organizations and potential sponsors, to individuals in the DOC.
Want to Help?
You can get involved in Ha! by contacting Zoe directly, either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (877) 762-8313, or by filling out this online form. Also, be sure to check out the TuDiabetes video interview with Zoe later this afternoon, to hear more from her about all of these efforts!