The financial and physical cost of diabetes

Steph Klassen and Jen Dyck have been living with diabetes since they were four and three years old. The cost of the disease is high, both financially and physically, and one mistake or equipment failure can (and recently did) send them to the hospital. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

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Sisters Steph Klassen and Jen Dyck have been living with Type 1 diabetes for over 25 years, and after a failed insulin pod sent Klassen to the hospital with dangerously high blood sugar levels, the two are sharing their experiences with the disease.

On March 24 at around 4 p.m. Klassen started feeling ill at her in-laws house. When she checked her blood sugar, her glucometer just read ‘high.’

“It doesn’t take long for it to become an emergency situation if your pod is faulty and leaking insulin,” she said.

She assumes the insulin pod started failing between noon and 3 p.m.

Klassen changed her pod, but was feeling more nauseated and could barely sip water without dry heaving, so she went to the hospital.

“They had to flush out my system,” she said. “One thing that happens with being Type 1 for many years is your body’s sensitivity to feeling low blood sugars and high blood sugars is really lessened. You can’t feel it, so the doctor was really surprised I caught it as early as I did.”

“It was really scary to me that she said it was that early, and I felt that horrible,” she added. “I was really panicked. That was the first time that’s happened to me since I was a teenager.”

About five hours later Klassen was cleared to go home. The experience was something that could have been avoided if Klassen had a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

The CGM monitors the wearers’ blood sugar continuously and keeps track of trends in blood sugar levels to keep it from getting too high or too low.

“If I had had the CGM, I never would have ended up in the hospital,” Klassen said. “I would have seen immediately that something wasn’t right and I could have corrected it.”

Dyck has a CGM, and said before she got it she suffered from a lot of low blood sugar levels that she wouldn’t realize were coming on.

She remembers one September long weekend when she and her husband were camping with family. “I woke up in the morning, checked my sugar, it was fine,” she said. “Within half an hour I was seizuring. I hadn’t even given any insulin yet.”

Dyck’s mother knew what to do, but they decided they were going to find a way to get her a CGM. Since getting the device, she hasn’t suffered from a seizure.

Of course, the costs of getting a CGM can be prohibitive to a lot of people. The sensors cost around $340 a month, and the transmitter is $89 a month.

“If you check your sugar ten times a day then it comes out to $1,063 a month,” Dyck said. “If you do the bare minimum, which is checking it two times a day, and that’s if you have the CGM, it’s still $876 a month.”

Those costs don’t include the actual insulin pump, which costs around $6,500 and needs to be replaced every five years or so.

“It’s really hard to find coverage,” Klassen said. “There are certain insurance plans but they’re very few and far between.”

Dyck said the plans that cover Type 1 diabetes are almost entirely through places of employment, since diabetes is a pre-existing condition.

If someone with diabetes can find an employer that does cover their costs, it isn’t always the best of situations.

“You have no options to quit your job,” Klassen said. “You can’t give something like that up. It really limits you.”

In October, it will have been 27 years since Klassen was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She was four years old.

“I was extremely sick leading up to it,” she said. “They couldn’t figure out what it was for a bit. By the time they did I was very sick, very surprised that I didn’t go into a coma.”

Dyck was three when she was diagnosed, and because their mother knew the signs to look for, she caught it right away.

The family moved to Manitoba and Klassen said their mother fought hard to get them on Life-Saving Drug program, which eventually became the Special Drug Program, which has since ended, taking their coverage with it.

If Klassen had access to a CGM when her pod failed, she could have avoided a trip to the hospital and the costs associated.

“If they would have better access and coverage for this stuff, it would be way less trips for diabetics to the hospital,” Klassen said. “I just think all around it would be way more savings for the government if they were to re-evaluate this.”

Coverage for insulin and supplies for diabetics varies from province to province. Klassen and Dyck said moving to another province for better coverage has crossed their minds, but uprooting their entire lives isn’t an easy or appealing thought.

The government doesn’t cover any costs of the CGM, as Klassen said they don’t consider it a ‘necessity.’

But Dyck said because of her CGM, she can keep her blood sugar at safe levels avoid any future complications that can come with diabetes, like kidney or liver disease, loss of eyesight, nerve damage and amputations.

The sisters said people still have a lot of misconceptions about diabetes. “I think they really mix up Type 1 and Type 2,” Dyck said. “People always just assume that diabetes is self-inflicted, you’re overweight or you’re not healthy, and that’s really not the case.”

Klassen said a lot of people also don’t realize how much goes into keeping themselves healthy and at safe levels.

“Everything affects your blood sugar,” she said. “Everything. The temperature changed, I wore a different sweater today.”

“It’s literal, the temperature can actually affect your blood sugar,” Dyck added. “Being in the sun too much can lower it for some people and make it high for some people. There’s not even a clear cut rule guide.”

Klassen and Dyck are hoping the government will eventually change legislation to cover more costs of diabetes.

“We’ve had to put a lot of things on hold,” Dyck said. “My husband’s family lives in Belize, my husband hasn’t been home to see them since our daughter was three months old, and now she’s two. There’s always sacrifices we have to make.”

Klassen and Dyck are hoping people will help by writing to their representatives and pushing for better coverage. You can find some easy forms to fill in at jdrf.ca under the Advocacy tab.

Steph Klassen spent a Sunday in the hospital because her insulin pod failed to alert her to dangerously high blood sugar levels. (SUPPLIED)

Steph Klassen spent a Sunday in the hospital because her insulin pod failed to alert her to dangerously high blood sugar levels. (SUPPLIED)

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