“Idol” Elliott Yamin running low on medical supplies in Chile

Season Five American Idol finalist Elliot Yamin felt fortunate to survive Chile’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake this past week. However, the 31 year old is now dealing with his own potential medical emergency. Yamin is a Type I diabetic, and uses an insulin pump to keep his blood sugar in control. Yamin, who was in Chile to sing at a music festival, is running low on medical supplies for his pump, and has been unable to get out of Chile to get more.

“I am a Type 1 diabetic and I only packed enough insulin supplies for my pump to last a couple more days, so I’m starting to worry,” he said. “I don’t know how long we’re going to be here. This country isn’t very keen on insulin pumps; supplies for my pump are running low. Hospitals here are very crowded, and as you can imagine, they are dealing with bigger things.”

We’ve touched on the topics of diabetes and diabetic ketoacidosis in stories about Nick Jonas, and Casey Johnson. In this blog, let’s talk about insulin pumps.

As you may recall, diabetes is a chronic disease where the body is either unable to make, or is resistant to a insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is used to break down and store energy (in the form of glucose or “sugar”) from foods. Without insulin, blood glucose and fat levels become too high and, over time, can damage blood vessels and vital organs. Type 1 diabetics are unable to make insulin, unlike Type 2 diabetics, who can make insulin, but whose tissues have become resistant to its effects. Studies have shown that keeping the blood sugar in a normal range as much as possible, decreases the complications of diabetes. Keeping such tight control over the disease has meant frequent monitoring blood sugar levels as well as frequent injections of insulin.

Insulin pumps replace the need for frequent injections by delivering rapid-acting insulin continuously throughout the day using a catheter.  Pumps are typically about the size of a deck of cards or cell phone, weigh about 3 ounces, and can be worn on a belt or carried in a pocket. Most pumps use a disposable plastic cartridge as an insulin reservoir. A disposable infusion set is used with the pump to deliver insulin to an infusion site on the body, such as the abdomen. Infusion sets include a cannula—a needle or a small, soft tube—that the user inserts into the tissue beneath the skin.  Narrow, flexible plastic tubing carries insulin from the pump to the infusion site. On the skin’s surface, an adhesive patch or dressing holds the infusion set in place until the user replaces it after a few days.

Users set the pumps to give a steady trickle or “basal” amount of insulin continuously throughout the day. Pumps can also give “bolus” doses—one-time larger doses—of insulin at meals and at times when blood glucose is too high based on the programming set by the user. Frequent blood glucose monitoring is essential to determine insulin dosages and to ensure that insulin is delivered.

Advantages of Using an Insulin Pump (according to American Diabetes Association)

  • Using an insulin pump means eliminating individual insulin injections
  • Insulin pumps deliver insulin more accurately than injections
  • Insulin pumps often improve A1C
  • Using an insulin pump usually results in fewer large swings in your blood glucose levels
  • Using an insulin pump makes diabetes management easier – if your glucose level is high or you feel like eating, figure out how much insulin you need and push the little button on the pump
  • Insulin pumps allow you to be flexible about when and what you eat
  • Using an insulin pump can improve your quality of life
  • Using an insulin pump reduces severe low blood glucose episodes
  • Using an insulin pump eliminates unpredictable effects of intermediate- or long-acting insulin
  • Insulin pumps allow you to exercise without having to eat large amounts of carbohydrate

Disadvantages of Using an Insulin Pump (again according to the ADA)

  • Can cause weight gain
  • Can cause diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) if your catheter comes out and you don’t get insulin for hours
  • Can be expensive
  • Can be bothersome since you are attached to the pump most of the time
  • Can require a hospital stay or maybe a full day in the outpatient center to be trained

For more information:

Insulin pump
Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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