When Courtney Duckworth was first diagnosed with Type I diabetes, her glucometer was the size of a cell phone and she pricked her fingers nearly 12 times each day to keep track of her blood sugar.
“I couldn’t feel the things that I touched because I had so many scabs,” she told Drug Delivery Business News.
This week, she ran the Boston Marathon using Abbott‘s (NYSE:ABT) FreeStyle Libre – a continuous glucose monitor that allows her to test her blood sugar simply by swiping her phone over a small sensor worn on her upper arm.
Duckworth was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was just 10 years old. A competitive figure skater, she dreamed of one day competing at the Olympics. At 24 years old, Duckworth is now a published author and an avid athlete. She ran her first Boston Marathon in 2015 with a conventional meter, pricking her fingers along the way.
“When you’re running, the last thing you want to do is stop and test your blood sugar. It was really experimental at first and there were a couple of compromising situations that I was put into because I didn’t know what my blood sugars were doing when I was running. I learned with experience but it was really difficult because you don’t have all the data that you necessarily need to make treatment decisions.”
This year, she ran alongside her college friend, and fellow Type I diabetic, Patrick O’Brien. The two met in a nutrition class at the College of William and Mary and O’Brien remembers feeling a bond with Duckworth right away.
“When you see fellow Type I diabetics it’s like seeing a unicorn – we basically became instant friends,” he said.
This was O’Brien’s first marathon, but he’s no stranger to competition. He played soccer in college and can recall the pains of training with a traditional glucometer.
“Before I had the FreeStyle, I would be training on a treadmill and I would have my glucometer resting on it. I would have to run on the treadmill and prick my finger at the same time. Twice I had instances where the glucometer fell off the treadmill,” he explained. When you’re training for a marathon and it being my first one, the last thing you want to do is stop and pick up the glucometer and re-check the sugar again.”
One of the most important insights the two derive from Abbott’s latest device is being able to see how their blood sugar trends over a given period of time. Previously, O’Brien and Duckworth would see snapshots of their glucose levels, but they couldn’t know how their levels changed in between tests. Now, the two athletes said, they can fill that knowledge gap thanks to the system’s constant monitoring.
This year’s Boston Marathon was marked by frigid conditions that left runners facing gusts of wind and punishing rainfall. Duckworth said that at times, it was hard to tell if her vision was blurry because her blood sugar was low or because the rain was obstructing her line of sight.
During the race, she pulled off into a tent to ask a volunteer to test her blood sugar using a traditional glucometer. She couldn’t feel her hands, Duckworth said, so she instructed a team of volunteers in how to use a meter. But before she could head back to the course, her meter was doused with Gatorade, rendering it useless. She relied on the FreeStyle Libre for the remainder of her race, swiping five times over the 26.2 miles to assess her blood sugar.
“The wind was really something,” Duckworth said. “My goal turned into just finishing the race. It was really inspiring to see everybody go through those conditions and rally behind each other to finish the day.”
O’Brien said that although the conditions made the race difficult at times, “it’s definitely something that I’ll remember forever.”
He added that the extreme temperatures would have made it nearly impossible to use a traditional glucometer and that he was grateful to have the flexibility of a simple swipe when he needed to test his blood sugar.
Now that she has completed her second Boston Marathon, Duckworth has an even loftier goal in mind: running all six races in Abbott’s World Marathon Majors. O’Brien said that his experience this year has “engulfed him in the running spirit” and that he will certainly run in another marathon.