A Path to Research

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Hi everyone! My name is Claire Clendenen and I have recently joined T1D Exchange as a Quality Improvement Program Coordinator. I graduated from Providence College in 2016 with a degree in health policy and management and am excited to start a career where I can connect patients, families, providers, and industry in order to improve the lives of all those affected by type 1 diabetes.

When I was diagnosed with type 1 in June 2007 when I was 12, I had a hard time understanding exactly how it would affect the rest of my life. Heading into the eighth grade was daunting enough—having to figure out a new lifestyle along with it was certainly not an easy task. I am lucky enough that I had a wonderful support system of family and friends. I was never told I couldn’t do something because of diabetes and I didn’t let it slow me down. I went to basketball camp two weeks after my diagnosis that summer. It was a challenge to time snacks and give myself injections (all while being followed around by a nurse), but I am so grateful for the experience. It was hard adjusting—especially being an active and outgoing kid—but I was encouraged that despite T1D, I can do anything and I hope to encourage everyone to do the same. You can do everything your peers can, just with a lot more work!

When I was young, I did not want to share my diagnosis with others because I didn’t want people to think I was different. It took some time, but as I went into high school, I realized that diabetes is just one part of me and it does not define me. During my sophomore year, I got involved in various outreach and advocacy programs. The experience helped me be more confident with my diabetes. Instead of constantly wondering why this happened to me I was able to meet others going through a similar experience. I was learning to handle whatever life has thrown my way. Navigating the many facets of this disease has not been easy but I hope to be a resource for all those affected by T1D.

Diabetes is what lead me to study health policy and management in college. Our program was so diverse and included courses in a wide variety of healthcare topics. I believe my studies were a large part in starting a career where I was in a position to help others. During my time studying at college I became hyper aware of the grave health disparities in the US and across the world. I have since been passionate about helping other people, specifically by improving quality of care and increasing access to healthcare. I hope to use both my education and life experience to support others; whether that be with the physical and emotional side effects of chronic illness or the difficulties with access to low cost and high quality healthcare.

One part of diabetes care that really interests me is the use of technology to help improve outcomes for people with T1D. Personally, I use an OmniPod alongside my Dexcom CGM. Having been on the OmniPod for almost seven years, I have seen the advancements just with this one device—it keeps getting smaller and easier to use. Also, using a CGM is the most valuable piece of technology I own—I hate to go a day without it. When I was first diagnosed, I participated in a clinical trial for the Medtronic pump and CGM. That was a little less than ten years ago! I didn’t like the sensor as I felt it was not as accurate as I had hoped, and I had to use a huge needle to change the sensor every 3 days. So, when I had the opportunity to get the Dexcom CGM my sophomore year of college, I was very hesitant to get it because I wasn’t sure how I would like it. Once I was on it I was hooked, the device has helped me improve my management and care (especially during exercise, when I am not as aware of blood sugar changes).

I also just recently participated in another clinical trial at MGH where I was able to wear the bihormonal (insulin and glucagon) bionic pancreas for two weeks. I also was wearing the Freestyle Libre and Senseonics continuous glucose monitors. My set-up in the first two weeks consisted of two t:slim pumps, a Dexcom CGM, and an iPhone with the BetaBionics app. I loved the device, although it was difficult to change the site every day and the maintenance was tedious. The next two weeks I was only using one pump with insulin, which was difficult because I experienced a lot of lows, and it was difficult to use during exercise because it would overcorrect me. The last two weeks I was back on my regular care but was still carrying around all my crazy devices, but I still was able to run a five-mile race wearing a nifty fanny pack! I loved participating in the trial because research is so interesting to me, and I enjoyed giving feedback to the study team that could help improve the technology in the future. Having been on both sides of research I’m eager to be involved with the work being done here at T1D Exchange.

—Claire Clendenen

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