When you live day-in and day-out with diabetes, you often find clever, MacGyver-like workarounds to everyday problems -- like using toupee glue to keep a CGM sensor stuck on your arm. Or using a pump reservoir as an insulin source to siphon the stuff off and then inject it with a syringe. Or a D-Mom's use of one son's pump to give a bolus-through-priming to another son who doesn't have his connected. Or using a butter knife to pop open an OmniPod, and stick a syringe inside to snag some needed insulin.
Some of us have even created small businesses to share these unique solutions with others, which is why we launched our Small But Mighty series back in 2010 -- to feature these enterprising folks! This month, we are looking at New Jersey-based Rescue Me IDs, founded by Rachel Kasper, whose sister, Anne, has type 1 diabetes, along with two of Rachel's three sons.
Although Rachel herself isn't a PWD (person with diabetes), she spent many years working at Joslin Diabetes Center as an islet cell transplant researcher. Then, after moving to New Jersey, her youngest son Jake was diagnosed in August 2004. A little more than a year old at the time, Jake couldn't wear most of the standard, adult-sized medical alert IDs, so Rachel devised an easier way to clip the important information to her tiny child's clothes. When her oldest son Matt was diagnosed in 2007, they expanded to suit the needs of older kids and teens. (Their middle child doesn't have diabetes.)
When Rachel's not at her day job working as a biostatician, she designs and produces Rescue Me's medical alert bracelets, dog tags, zipper pulls, and temporary tattoos that allow kids and adults to stay safe wherever they are. Bracelets come beaded or as a "bungee" band (made from a comfortable, stretchable fabric), while the medical ID tags are sold separately, making it convenient to mix and match different styles.
She took some time recently to chat with the 'Mine about how her personal passion as a D-mom fuels her small business:
DM) How did you get interested in diabetes research work?
RK) My sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes right before she went to college. I was always interested in medical research and so I picked the subject I wanted to look at and pursued it. My cousin was also diagnosed when he was younger. So I had been around it. But when my kids were diagnosed, then I realized that I didn't really understand just how much work it is.
Back then, I don't feel they prepared you the way they do now -- preparing my parents, or my sister, or anyone else. It was a little community hospital. My sister would only let me give her an injection. I was the only one who helped her in my family, but I don't know why that is.
What exactly did you do at the top research clinic Joslin?
I worked in the islet transplantation labs at Joslin as a lab tech. We did various studies and animal research on beta cell regeneration and mechanisms for islet cell transplantation.
Tell us about the transition from D-researcher to D-mom... a whole other world of "getting it," yes?
It's interesting because I worked in the lab and it was not clinical. The work is not with people. It's in a dish. When it's your kids, it's just completely different. We were definitely slapped in the face.
(That first diagnosis) happened about 10 years after I had stopped working at Joslin. I went on to get my Master's, and now work as biostatistician. I was always in the field of medical research, but at that point, when I had kids, you work with whoever would let you work part-time and close to home. We had just moved from Massachusetts to New Jersey, and my youngest son was diagnosed at 13 months. We knew nobody here. It was crazy. Then my other son, Matt, was diagnosed three years later when he was 9 years old.
What was Matt's diagnosis like compared to Jake's?
Matt's diagnosis caught me completely off guard. I never thought another one of my children would have this happen to them. (Note: see yesterday's post on this topic.) My husband was away at a conference and I had the boys out to dinner and Matt kept calling the waitress over for more drinks. He was frantic about it. That is when the light-bulb in my head went on and I knew what all the headaches and stomach aches he had all winter were about. I called my husband and told him my suspicion and we agreed that I would test Matt first thing in the morning. That night I heard him use the bathroom at least 10 times and I knew I didn't even have to test him. He was 350 fasting and off to CHOP (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia) we went.
My youngest was only 13 months, and they (medical professionals) said you need to get him a medic alert. But what do you do with a baby? A bracelet would be too big or he would try to eat it. I didn't know what to put on such a little kid. So I would make little tags to put on his zippers. He was never alone, but if he was with his grandma or a playgroup, we'd put something on his sneakers or zippers. We couldn't find a lot out there, so we started with zippers and dog-tags.
When my oldest was diagnosed, he said he didn't want to wear anything. So he helped design things by telling me what he wanted to wear. If he wanted to wear it, then maybe other kids also wanted to see something else besides your usual silver or stainless steel bracelets.
Yes! My husband, Scott, was a paramedic for years, and now he runs the paramedic service here in our town. We were able to put the alerts in front of medics to get their opinion and ask them, "Can you read it? Can you see it?" Paramedics do look at the clothing. If they are looking for a necklace, they will see it. And it's a great option for a little kid to make sure that it stays on it and it doesn't bother them to wear it.
What makes your tags different from other medical alert IDs?
We are trying to make it a little funner for kids to wear and make it comfortable -- because there just wasn't anything designed for them in the past. One bracelet snapped off in 2 days and there went $80! We try to keep it inexpensive. We treat it more like custom jewelry rather than a medic alert piece. We also have mini dog tags for girls and zipper pulls. (The IDs are also offered for autism, food allergies and other conditions).
We do no silver or gold; the tags are all made of anodized aluminum. The dog tags are stainless steal, and they come in various colors. The plates are interchangeable. Our biggest seller are the bungee bands and they are really soft. You forget you have it on!
We do have some window clings and tattoos for diabetes when the kids swim. We've had some triathletes use them for their races.
I think a lot of it depends on the age of the kids. I think you can't have preset expectations. Whatever plan you thought you had, you just have to make a new plan and everything will be fine. In other words, you can't be very rigid about things. High blood sugars will happen. Things don't always work out smoothly.
What advice do you have for other parents who might want to start a small business?
There are a lot of moms and dads out there who come up with their own little solutions to these everyday problems. Some are amazing ideas. Why not put it out there? This isn't a money maker, but that's not what you do it for.
Gotta love the creativity and desire to create products that help! Thank you, Rachel, for the great work you're doing to help young people live better with the Big D.