MBA diary: tackling the diabetes epidemic – Stefany Shaheen

Stefany Shaheen, EMBA ’18

From The Economist

My entrepreneurial journey began on a chilly January morning in 2008, not long after my daughter, Elle, was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. She and I were in the kitchen of our New Hampshire home getting ready for breakfast. Elle, who was eight at the time and the eldest of four children, reached into the cupboard and picked out a box of Cheerios and a bowl. I handed her a measuring cup, calculator and notepad.

The realities of living with type-1 diabetes—a chronic, autoimmune disease that destroys the body’s ability to make insulin—were just starting to sink in. Fixing a bowl of cereal was no longer a simple process; it was maths problem. Together, we needed to figure out the amount of carbohydrates in the cereal and milk and then determine how much insulin Elle would need to inject to turn that food into fuel. We also needed to keep track of the food she was eating along with her physical activity and blood sugar levels to avoid dangerous high and low blood sugars. Having blood sugar that is either too high or too low can cause serious complications and could lead to death.

Elle and I got to work but she soon became frustrated. She threw the cereal box across the room; Cheerios flew everywhere. “Why does this have to be so hard?” she asked me through muffled tears.

Amidst the fog of crisis, I wondered whether tools existed to make coping with the day-to-day management of chronic illnesses, like diabetes, easier for both sufferers and their families. If the tools did not already exist, I knew that I needed to put my entrepreneurial energy to work to change that.

About 29m Americans, or 9% of the population, have been diagnosed with diabetes. Most of those cases are type 2—or adult onset—diabetes, which is a chronic disease that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. Another 86m people in this country have pre-diabetes, which means that their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be considered full-blown diabetes. Without intervention, it is likely to progress to type-2 diabetes—with all the complications that entails, including heart, kidney and vision problems—within 10 years.

Even at a time when treating people with chronic diseases accounts for nearly 86% of our nation’s health-care costs, those statistics are terrifying. The total estimated cost of diabetes in America is about $245bn, including $176bn in direct medical costs and $69bn in reduced productivity. The good news is that we can get ahead of this epidemic. It starts with empowering individuals by giving them real-time, accessible information and support.

Read the full post at The Economist.

Stefany Shaheen is an Executive MBA student at MIT Sloan, and co-founded a firm that helps diabetes sufferers lead healthier lives.

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