Joanna and Natasha Hotung On How CGM Is Changing The Lives Of Diabetics
The greatest challenge of living with diabetes is that it is a chronic health condition that follows you everywhere you go, almost like a shadow you are trying to shake off but can’t,” says Natasha Hotung, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of seven. “It’s a 24/7 job and you have to be responsible and disciplined on a daily bases to achieve stable blood-sugar levels, maintain a healthy diet, inject insulin doses on time and track your physical activity.”
By the time Natasha was nine, she had learnt to inject insulin and manage her condition. But the process—the pinprick to draw blood, the analysis and the necessary response—is time-consuming and hugely affects the daily lives of diabetics. Pinprick tests are hard for anyone, especially for children learning how to manage their diabetes.
But there is new hope. Natasha’s mother, Joanna Hotung, who founded Youth Diabetes Action (YDA), a Hong Kong charity dedicated to helping young diabetics, says the disruptive tests might soon be a thing of the past, thanks to advances in continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology.
See also: Giving Back With Joanna Hotung
CGM systems track glucose levels throughout the day via a sensor inserted just under the skin. While they have been around for several years, a new version, the Freestyle Libre, is significantly more advanced than previous incarnations. Inconspicuous and easy to wear, it’s a small white disc worn on the upper arm with a thin plastic cannula that goes under the skin. There is no tubing and the reader is wireless. Hong Kong became one of the first places to test the revolutionary Freestyle Libre system last year when its maker, Abbott Labs, provided YDA with 450 devices.
Natasha was slightly reluctant at first to incorporate the device into her everyday life. She felt she had her routine down to a fine art after 20 years of managing her diabetes, so she took some convincing. But it wasn’t long before she was a convert.
“With the CGM I can very quickly swipe the scanner across the device and read my blood sugar,” says Natasha. “It works even through a thick winter coat. Nobody needs to know what I’m doing and it’s minimally invasive. The CGM also tells me whether my blood-sugar level is flat, going up or going down.” Adds Joanna, “It actually allows you to make better decisions.” Diabetics can better manage that relentless balancing act between food, insulin and exercise, she says. “Any device that helps you to do that is amazing for a start, and any device that helps you do that unobtrusively, conveniently and accurately is life-changing.”
The CGM system is revolutionary, in particular, for diabetic children and their parents. Kids can do what kids do—run around and play—and with a quick swipe over the arm blood sugar can be evaluated without disruption. This can be done multiple times a day at no extra cost, unlike pinprick tests, which each cost money—a cost that causes some diabetics to put themselves at risk by limiting the number of times they check their blood.
However, the CGM system is actually more expensive at present, as each cannula needs to be replaced after two weeks. But Joanna believes the benefits far outweigh the cost, as CGM transforms how diabetics live with their disease. She is keen to get the device onto the arms of every child in Hong Kong with diabetes—which is where YDA’s annual Spring Fling fundraiser, taking place on May 3, comes in. She hopes to raise enough money to provide all 600 of YDA’s under–18 members with the Freestyle Libre device.
As an advocate of new technology, Natasha is fully supportive. “It’s my hope that everyone with diabetes can benefit from this amazing new technology.”
Joanna will host the Youth Diabetes Action gala tomorrow evening at Conrad Hong Kong. Find out more about Youth Diabetes Action at yda.org.hk