This time, we're chatting with Sara Vazquez, a fellow PWD who lives in Massachusetts, where she's in her senior year of college studying biology. She also works as an undergraduate research lab assistant at the legendary Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, so she's right there at the corner of Brilliant Minds & the Latest in D-management and Research - wow!
In her winning contest video, Sara shares a simple message: "When you're designing your products... 'think big,' but don't forget to think small." From glucose tabs to insulin pens to product cases, Sara wants the diabetes companies to think more practically: like they actually had to carry this stuff in their own pockets, or were forced to pay full price when they only need a small amount of some supplies.
You know the drill. Now Sara shares a little about herself, her own advocacy story, and what her hopes are regarding the DiabetesMine Innovation Summit coming up in November:
DM) Since we're talking diabetes: When were you diagnosed?
SV) It was freshman year Halloween. I was dressed up like a pirate and my roommates were wearing some pretty ridiculous costumes, as well. I had gone to the campus clinic that morning and asked if they could test my blood sugar, because I had every possible symptom of diabetes. The doctor told me it was probably nothing and that I'd get my results by the following Monday. My friends and roommates thought I was a hypochondriac, but the clinic wound up calling me that night at 10 p.m. to tell me that I had to go to the hospital immediately — so I did, still fully costumed!
I'm going to be a senior this year, so I'm working in a Joslin lab on a senior thesis project. The lab I work in focuses on a mixture of immunology, thymus development, and adult stem cells. For me, there's a good side and a not-so-good side to working at Joslin.
The good side is that it's one of the biggest diabetes centers in the world, and I really like being part of the research that's happening there. The bad side is that working at a leading diabetes research center, it's easy to see that a cure is still pretty far off. Research is exciting, but it's also a long and slow process.
I wasn't until this year. I didn't even know it existed before then. Discovering the DOC has made me feel a lot less alone in many of my diabetes frustrations and achievements. I'm not involved directly with Joslin social media, but I do blog for Glu (an awesome new research-based social media site for anyone with type 1 diabetes).
Do you see yourself as a patient advocate?
I don't fully see myself as a patient advocate — at least not yet!
I did, however, recently become involved in creating a volunteer program at a nearby hospital. It's meant to serve as a support system for newly diagnosed T1Ds and their families — they'll be given the option of speaking with someone who has been living with T1D for a while. From experience, I know that a diagnosis is especially hard when there's no one around to answer your questions. I was diagnosed on a Friday evening, so I was in limbo for the entire weekend and wasn't able to find out much about what was happening. Even afterwards, I didn't meet anyone with T1D for about a year, so I really hope this program can help all those families who have no idea what life post-diagnosis will be like, and who don't have connections to anyone else with the disease.
Your theme of "Thinking Small" is a great idea... tell us more about what inspired you on that, aside from what's in your video.
I've always been frustrated that I can't fit everything into my pockets. I remember being able to run out of the house with only my keys, phone, and credit card in my pocket, and I miss that a lot. My insulin pens tend to slip out because they're too long, and my meter and test strips definitely don't fit, either. All it would take to change that are a few minor adjustments to the shape and size of the products. For example, my new iBGStar fits into my pocket easily, and it makes my life a lot easier!
About that: as contest winner you received a new iBGStar as a prize. What are your thoughts after trying it out?
I love my iBGStar! I used for about a week, until I ran out of test strips. Unfortunately, I still have an enormous amount of test strips for my old meter, so I'm making myself use those up before I really start using the iBGStar. My favorite features so far are: that it can be used in the dark, that it only needs a tiny drop of blood, and the size — it's tiny!
I'm really not sure what to expect! Mostly, I'm just excited about meeting other people who are interested in revolutionizing diabetes care and who have ideas they want to share. If people can leave with even just a few simple ideas to bring back to their companies and organizations, that seems like a step in the right direction. (Especially if it involves making things more compact and able to fit in jeans pockets, hint hint.)
How do you think this might affect your own life with diabetes going forward?
I'm not 100% sure about which career direction I'd like to take after college. I'm currently leaning towards medicine, but I'm excited to meet people from different parts of the medical field and hear about their experiences. T1D is a field that interests me not just personally, but also career-wise — I'm passionate about it and would like for it to remain a part of my academic and (later) professional life. I hope this Summit can introduce me to different aspects of the diabetes-related medical field, and perhaps help me shape my goals for post-graduation.
Thank you, Sara. We're glad to have you bring an important patient perspective on these everyday issues to the innovation table — and we look forward to your bright future in the T1D world!