Every day, Rachael McIlquham clips the pump about the size of a telephone pager on her clothing.
The pump has a vial of insulin in it. Tubes come out of the vial and are connected to a catheter on the 18 1/2 year-old.
The pump helps the blood sugar level remain constant in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire freshman.
But as it is for most diabetic supplies, it’s not cheap. The $7,000 cost was covered by insurance, according to Rachael’s mother, Sharon McIlquham.
“My daughter has Type 1 diabetes. She’s had it since Jan. 11, 2004,” said Sharon McIlquham, an Eau Claire attorney who is the chairwoman of the Walk to Cure Diabetes that’s held each September in Carson Park.
She served for six years on the board of directors of the Western Wisconsin Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and has been asked to serve on the board again.
Sharon McIlquham said there’s been huge strides in treating diabetes since her daughter was diagnosed. She feels confident that someday there will be a cure.
For instance, the University of Minnesota and other medical facilities have done studies that reveals that different antibodies found in a person’s system may be an indicator if the person will get diabetes.
She said she knows one family whose daughter has Type 1 diabetes, and a son has an indicator that he may get diabetes.
Type 1 and 2
Not all diabetes is the same.
Most diabetics have what’s called Type 2 diabetes. It usually happens gradually. Obesity can be a factor as is the person’s age, poor diet, family history and genetics.
With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin for the body to use.
Everyone who is Type 1 is insulin dependent.
“Type 2 you can control with diet and exercise. Sometimes you can control it with medication. Sometimes you need insulin,” Sharon McIlquham said.
Rachael McIlquham has Type 1, which is sometimes called Juvenile Diabetes.
“They think what caused Rachael to become a diabetic was (when) she got a virus (at age 11). And for whatever reason, it attacked her pancreas,” Sharon said.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics can have what’s called a “honeymoon period.” Usually, within the first three to four months of being diagnosed, the pancreas still is producing a certain amount of insulin that the body uses.
But eventually the pancreas shuts down production. When that happens, a diabetic needs insulin.
Cost adds up
The most common way to administer that is by injecting insulin by using a syringe. Some diabetics are able to use what’s called a Humalog pen, a device that looks like a normal pen but that’s prefilled with insulin.
To measure blood sugar, diabetics use a device that pricks the skin to bring a drop of blood to the surface. Then a test strip from the device measures the blood sugar level.
McIlquham said diabetics have to take those readings six to eight times a day.
The test strips come in packages of 50 to 100, and cost somewhere around $75 a bottle. Figuring six readings a day for a 30-day month, you would need at least two bottles of strips to get through a month.
A bottle of insulin costs $80 apiece. McIlquham said Rachael goes through probably three to four bottles in a month.
The supplies for her insulin pump cost $300 to $400 every couple of months. And the cost of the pump itself: $7,000.
“If you don’t have health insurance there’s no way you can afford an insulin pump,” she said.
Another device is a continuous monitor that diabetics wear. It automatically checks blood sugar and sends readings to the pump every five minutes.
But McIlquham said insurance doesn’t cover the cost of that device, and her daughter doesn’t have it.
She said a significant number of diabetics have to rely on BadgerCare, the state’s health insurance program for low-income people. But others don’t qualify for the program.
“I’ve known adults not covered by BadgerCare cut test strips in half to make them go farther,” she said.
She said in her opinion, insurance companies should be giving diabetics health supplies to eliminate the health problems they would develop later by not taking care of themselves.
McIlquham wishes her daughter didn’t have diabetes, but realizes the disease is manageable.
“There are much worse diseases that Rachael can have,” she said.