Times Colonist

Diabetes sufferer says device would ease his fears

- CINDY E. HARNETT ceharnett@timescolon­ist.com

A 44-year-old Sooke man, who goes to sleep at night afraid he’ll slip into a diabetic coma, is frustrated the provincial government won’t fund an insulin pump that would give him a continuous insulin infusion through the night — and peace of mind.

Dale Stewart was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age four. Since then, he has had 15 eye operations due to complicati­ons associated with diabetes, and countless trips to the hospital to be revived.

Stewart has fallen unconsciou­s several times and once wound up in a severe coma. He said it would be cheaper to pay for the pump than for his ambu- lance calls, emergency visits and hospital stays.

An insulin pump costs between $6,000 and $7,000, plus about $1,200 a year for associated supplies. The pumps last five to six years.

The battery-powered, pager-sized pump is programmed to deliver regular insulin injections throughout the day through a tiny tube inserted under the skin, usually in the abdomen.

“The cost of the pump is virtually nothing compared to a one-day stay in hospital,” Stewart said. Last spring, he went to the hospital three times within two months.

The pump and associated costs are covered by some private insurance plans and some provinces. For example, Ontario covers the cost of pumps for both eligible children and adults, plus $2,400 a year for diabetic supplies.

A team including a specialist physician and diabetes educators determine an individual’s readiness for pump therapy and eligibilit­y for Assistive Devices Program.

British Columbia and Saskatchew­an reimburse the cost of such a pump only for children —18 and under in B.C. and 17 and under in Saskatchew­an.

In extraordin­ary circumstan­ces, when a pump has been deemed essential for an adult, the B.C. government has tried to fund it. That has given rise to a request for a broader review of the program and a look into whether the government should expand its support. “It’s the kind of thing that will most likely take a month or so,” B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong said.

Diabetes is a group of diseases that interfere with the body’s ability to make use of the simple sugars circulatin­g in the blood.

Either the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, the substance that allows cells to take up and use the blood sugar, or the cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced.

An estimated 240,000 Canadians have Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People with this form of the disease must administer insulin themselves by injection, insulin pumps or other means. The latest pumps are connected to a continuous glucose-monitoring device. The sensor takes glucose readings every five minutes and wirelessly communicat­es them to the pump, allowing the user to react to either high or low levels before they become dangerous.

Stewart manages a home healthcare store in Victoria. His otherwise exceptiona­l medical plan doesn’t cover the pumps, he said.

He is also a therapist for the Victoria Grizzlies hockey team of the B.C. Hockey League, and his wife works.

Setting aside $2,000 a year to buy and replace the pump every six years is a hardship, he said.

Stewart fears that he will be momentaril­y disabled by a hypoglycem­ic attack while with his three-yearold daughter, that he’ll go blind from the disease or that his blood sugar will drop in his sleep and he’ll go into a diabetic coma.

“Going to sleep is a nightmare,” Stewart said. “You have some semblance of control while you’re awake or when people are around who can watch you. But when you’re asleep, obviously, you don’t feel what’s going on.”

In 2010-11, the B.C. Ministry of Health Services spent more than $71.3 million on diabetes medication and supplies though the Pharmacare program.

There are about 2,200 children in B.C. who have Type 1 diabetes. Of those, about 600 use insulin pumps.

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