By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — In a little more than a month from now, a town woman will be walking to make managing diabetes less of a full-time job.
Kristen Gil, a Clifton Park resident, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 22 years ago when she was just 8 years old. Now a registered dietitian in the department of pediatrics at Albany Medical Center, Gil focuses on finding different ways to help her patients live as normal of a life as they can, while also coaching them in dealing with diabetes.
After Gil was diagnosed, her parents became involved with the JDRF, formerly known as the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation, one of the major charities specializing in Type 1 diabetes research.
Along with getting involved with JDRF, Gil and her family formed a team for One Walk, an event sponsored by JDRF that raises money for diabetes research. Gil will be walking in the upcoming One Walk Saratoga event on Oct. 14.
Though there is still no cure to Type 1 diabetes, Gil remembers a time where people affected by the disease suffered from symptoms including nerve damage, and said that the last two decades of research have proven to be a massive step forward. Her parents, she said, have always been “glass half full” people, and she said that she believes that someday, a cure will be discovered.
“I never really give up that positive outlook that that will happen,” Gil said.
In fact, Gil said, diabetes has brought many positive things into her own life, including a career that she loves. Gil always had had the goal of working in the medical field. Nutrition, she said, always played a huge role on her life because of her diabetes, and she said that when she graduated, she specifically searched for colleges that would allow her to pursue that career path. Becoming a nutritionist would allow her to take her own knowledge, and use it to help other people to feel better.
“Once I kind of started, I didn’t stop,” Gil said about her journey into the nutritionist world.
The issue with Type 1 diabetes, Gil said, is the fact that it’s a never-ending condition that takes up a huge amount of time for people who have it. Gil described the disease as something that is “24/7,” something that people don’t get a vacation from.
Though she doesn’t remember a time for her without diabetes, she acknowledged that everything she does, especially exercising, is difficult due to the fact that she has to constantly monitor herself and her blood sugar levels. Before her workouts, Gil makes sure to she is well fueled.
Right now, Gil is using a state-of-the art artificial pancreas system. The device, she said, allows her to take breaks in monitoring her insulin by simply checking her insulin pump to know what her blood sugar is instead of constantly monitoring it with a blood glucose meter. Gil said that one of the biggest, most exhausting challenges of diabetes is being forced to act as a pancreas herself.
The new artificial pancreas system is now commercially available.
“My hope one day is to not be tied down to an insulin pump,” she said.
Gil said that the most important point she makes to parents whose children have Type 1 is that they have to take control of the disease. The more prepared people are, she said, the less likely it is that they will have to drastically alter their lives to deal with diabetes. How she feels day to day differs, Gil said, and no method is perfect or foolproof, but the more prepared she is, the easier it is to just go about her day without having to constantly monitor herself. Any treatment that makes that easier, she said, would be a massive improvement.
“To be free from that, to take a break from that even, would be unbelievable,” she said.