There is a phrase circulating around diabetes groups on Facebook and social media: "Channeling JeVonda." It's sort of an inside joke, so often begs the obvious question: "Who is this JeVonda person?"
That would be JeVonda Flint, a high school teacher in Memphis who's been living with type 1 diabetes for the past eight years. As an active member of multiple diabetes Facebook groups, she's become an inspiration to many by sharing her out-of-the-box thinking on life with T1D, and new things she tries out -- especially new infusion site placements for D-devices. JeVonda has helped teach many people to think more freely about their medical devices based on her own experiences.
Today, we're excited to share her story to help our D-Community get to know JeVonda better!
An Interview with Diabetes Advocate JeVonda Flint
DM) To start, could you introduce yourself to DiabetesMine readers?
JF) My name is JeVonda Flint and I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and currently live in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m 38 years old and have been teaching high school math for 15 years. I’m currently single and don’t have kids. My younger sister is a doctor and dean at the University of Michigan.
When did diabetes enter your life?
I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I’d lost a ton of weight, was drinking a lot of water, using the bathroom a lot and had other classic symptoms of diabetes but kept ignoring them. I went from an athletic 5’9” and 160 pounds down to 118 pounds, and I looked anorexic.
I actually went to the ER because my finger hurt (snagged a hangnail and it was infected and swollen). As sick as I was, I would’ve headed to work if it wasn’t for my finger. They took one look at me and asked if I was anorexic or diabetic and I answered no to both questions. They took me in and ran my blood tests and came back and told me that I have type 1 diabetes. My blood sugar was over 1340 and my A1C was 17.2, so I went straight to ICU. I ended up having a staph infection in my finger that they were doing wound care on, but all of the tissue on the top of my finger was dead. So I had a partial index finger amputation just four days after I was diagnosed with type 1. I left the hospital ten days later with a PICC line (skin catheter) and was administering IV antibiotics daily from home for the next seven weeks and doing occupational therapy in addition to learning about living with type 1 diabetes.
Wow, that’s quite a traumatic diagnosis story! How do you currently manage your diabetes?
I actually started Omnipod (tubeless insulin pump) just three weeks after I was diagnosed. I had a type 1 student on Omnipod that year and knew that’s what I wanted. My doctor suggested Dexcom (continuous glucose monitor) for me about four years later because my A1Cs were around 5.4 and he was concerned about lows. No other pump or CGM for me, just nine years on Omnipod and four and a half years on Dexcom.
Many DOC'ers have come to know you as a pump/sensor site guru... What's your inspiration in trying new sites and have you had any issues with these "off-label" placements?
I have eczema and sensitive skin, so the pods were breaking me out in itchy rashes when placed on my stomach and back. So I relied on my arms a lot and they started to hurt to insert there, so I knew I needed more spots. I just slowly started branching out and trying spots. I’ve never had an issue wearing the devices near each other; I face the pod cannula away from the Dexcom sensor to help with spacing. The only spots I won’t use are my stomach and lower back because they itch too much there. Absorption is great everywhere for me, I just prefer them on limbs for comfort.
How does it make you feel when people say that they’re “channeling JeVonda” in trying new things?
I love that people get courage to try new spots from my pictures. I would have never thought to try some of these and the unique spots are best for me, so I like to share ideas to help others. I think most people find me to be helpful and straightforward and I know some are shocked by some of the spots I use. The diabetes Facebook groups are great because we get to interact and talk with others who understand what we go through. We may have a bad day and can vent to others who understand it.
What value do you get out of being active online with social media?
I don’t really know other type 1s in “real” life other than my students, so I got involved and joined Facebook groups right after diagnosis. It made me feel less alone in dealing with this. Facebook is the only social media I have. My students joke that I’m getting old, but I don’t know much about Instagram, Snapchat, etc.
What made you want to be a teacher?
I actually started out as a biology/pre-med major in college and planned to be a doctor. Then I changed my major to Mathematics and Computer Information Systems. I was finishing my Master’s degree in math and a friend asked me to teach for a year at her school, and I liked it and stuck with it. I’m teaching Algebra 2 and Calculus this year.
Does diabetes interfere or come into play when you're in the classroom?
Thanks to Omnipod, Dexcom and my Apple Watch, my diabetes has been pretty easy to manage while teaching. My students are used to beeping and ask if I’m OK and offer me snacks. I easily grab a snack or some juice if I’m low or take insulin without missing a beat. I have two type 1 students in my classes this year and had four last year. My high school is large, about 2,200 students, and I’ve had at least one student with type 1 every year since I was diagnosed in 2010.
You’ve shared some things in the past related to diabetes and dating. Can you comment on that?
I’ve always had positive attitudes and questions from others when dating or just in friendships. My last relationship was with a type 2 diabetic, so lots of support from both sides. I’m open with my type 1, have a tattoo on my wrist and my devices are usually on display, so people I’ve gone out with already know about my type 1 and it’s never an issue. They are curious and always ask questions and seem eager to learn. My advice is to be open about it and don’t be ashamed or afraid. I treat it like any other everyday thing I do, so there is no big deal made about it.
What diabetes technology are you most interested in?
I’m waiting on the Dexcom and Omnipod interaction. There is not much else I could ask for as far as technology. I love that they are constantly developing and trying to improve the technology though. I just wish the diabetes technology wasn’t so expensive and was readily available to everyone.
Finally, what advice would you share with someone who's newly diagnosed?
I think the most important thing I did early on was talk to other type 1’s, mostly on Facebook groups. It’s so important to feel like you aren’t alone. Patience is also important, even to this day. There are some days I can do everything right and my numbers will still be crazy. I would say: research and learn as much as you can. I got books and read online a lot when I was first diagnosed. Nothing is perfect and there will be ups and downs, but knowledge is power!
Thanks for sharing your story and doing what you do, JeVonda!