HUMANS ARE BUILDING BETTER VERSIONS OF THEMSELVES: From insulin to prosthetics, technology makes this the best moment yet to be living with a disability.

Author:Riggs, Mike
Position:TECHNOLOGY
 
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WHEN MY WIFE was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the late 1990s, at the age of 9, the technology available for giving her body insulin, which her pancreas is supposed to make but can't, was relatively primitive: Mollie measured her blood sugar with a device the size of a TV remote. It took a full minute to process the blood sample she provided, which could be obtained only by pricking her finger once for every reading. Administering the insulin required a syringe, a vial, and the assistance of an adult. The hardest part of jabbing herself throughout the day, she says now, was learning to ignore the child's natural instinct to avoid pain.

It was also frighteningly easy back then to take too much insulin. When she was in middle school, my father-in-law found Mollie unconscious from hypoglycemia, a condition that can cause brain death and cardiac arrest. Her first year after college, she ended up in the E.R. again, this time because she hadn't taken enough insulin. It could've been worse: Until the mid-20th century, Type 1 diabetics seldom survived adolescence.

Today, managing diabetes is a radically different experience. Mollie now uses a microscopic wire inserted under her skin to get real-time glucose updates on her phone (and mine) every five minutes. The sensor she wears is waterproof and roughly the size of a bottle cap, which means she can leave it attached to her arm for days at a time.

More miraculous still is the insulin pump that has replaced her pre-loaded insulin pins, which themselves replaced her hypodermic needles and vials just a few years ago. The pump communicates with her glucose monitor, shutting off if her blood sugar drops too low and alerting her if it appears she needs to increase her insulin rate. The pump is roughly the size of a deck of cards and connects to a port on her abdomen via a small tube. Sometimes that tube catches on things, but it's a massive improvement over jabbing herself with a needle dozens of times a day. A new tubeless pump is already on the market.

As with most people who have a disability, my wife wishes she didn't. But...

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