Tomorrow I fly to Detroit to give my last peer-mentor talk as an A1C Champion. Ten years I’ve been doing this now. Sanofi U.S., the program’s sponsor, is withdrawing its funding, investing in more immediate profit-producing products and services. It’s how business works. Ten years was a great run. I am indebted to Sanofi.
As a Champion, I have been invited into the lives of countless people with diabetes. I have presented in small towns, suburbia and large cities. When I counted, I was shocked to find I’ve been to twenty states with the program: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio, Washington, Michigan, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, Florida, Nebraska and South Dakota.
I’ve spoken to large groups from hospital auditorium stages and from a folding chair to one woman, knees to knees, who drove through the pouring rain to hear the program. I’ve spoken to affluent, educationally advantaged people with insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors and to disadvantaged, uneducated people whose only equipment was a cane or wheelchair due to an amputation, or two.
I write books and articles when I’m not on the road speaking. I love writing, it was my career before diabetes; I was an advertising copywriter. But for me there is nothing like standing in front of, and beside, those I can help. Seeing a light turn on for someone when you say just what they need to hear. Catching that quick nervous laugh when they recognize that we have all fallen from grace. Feeling people lean in and be carried on your words to a new understanding.
I’m always moved by the lines that form in front of me after a presentation; lines deep with people’s questions, thank yous and confidences. Often there are displays of affection like from the woman who sat perfectly still during the 45 minute presentation, and then as I was packing to leave, threw her arms around me in a bear hug. “How can I not hug you? You inspired me. I haven’t seen my doctor all year because I’ve been ‘bad.’ But I’m making an appointment Monday. Now I know I can, and I will, do better!”
I recently read of a three year study on peer supporters with MS in the book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? It found that while those who received peer support benefitted, the peer supporters themselves derived seven times more benefit than the patients they served. I can attest to that.
So tomorrow around 12:15 PM when thirty five people pull out of the parking lot of the Wayman Palmer YMCA in Toledo, Ohio, I will have given my last program. They will be among the last people to have the opportunity to hear someone with diabetes share their story and listen to theirs.
I want to thank Sanofi. They have been the only pharmaceutical company to my knowledge that has invested in and supported live peer-education. I thank them also for inviting me to speak at several of their executive meetings. Each time, whether addressing a roomful of global device designers or sales reps at a new product rollout, I’ve been told I was the best thing on the agenda. Those who work in the diabetes space are hungry to better understand the experience of living with diabetes.
I want to thank the staff of VPR POP who administered the program. The dozen dedicated, passionate people who managed the relationship with Sanofi and the diabetes educators who requested a program. They went to bat for us, handled the logistics of getting up to eighty people across the country on an almost daily basis, were a phone call away in any emergency and communicated on a regular basis with us to let us know we were admired, cared for and amazing.
I speak often about the value of “hardware” and “heartware” in managing diabetes. Hardware being our devices, meters, CGMs, insulin pens, apps – the technology. Heartware being the human connection between patient and provider, or in the case of peer-mentoring, patient and patient. I believe both hardware and heartware are essential to live well with diabetes.
When I first heard about the A1C Champion program in 2006, I called the organization that managed it for six consecutive months, until they were finally training new Champions and invited me to join. I have learned over the years the power of persistence.
Today diabetes-related companies find themselves struggling to contain costs and pay shareholders. Fewer medical students are entering endocrinology. General physicians can’t keep up with the constant changing diabetes drugs and treatments. Diabetes educators are underutilized and not accessible everywhere.
I hope amid this landscape there are still companies persisting in making face-to-face peer-mentoring available. Study after study affirms the value of these high quality connections to inspire better patient self-care and clinical outcomes.
So while executives cut budgets here and ramp them up there, principally for drugs and devices, let’s not forget that something as small and simple, as low-cost and low-tech, as the human connection can also have a big impact on saving money and saving lives.