MP stumps for accessible insulin pumps

Windsor, Ont. resident Ryan Hooey is working with Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo to make insulin pumps more accessible. photo supplied

The technology is there. It’s just not where Ryan Hooey needs it to be.

Hooey lost his vision because of diabetes. Now he struggles to treat his diabetes because he lost his vision.

However, with some help from Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo, Hooey may be getting some help in that struggle.

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Diabetic since he was seven, Hooey was in his mid-20s when he lost his vision.

He’s got diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects an estimated one million Canadians, according to Fighting Blindness Canada. The condition also affects about one quarter of people with diabetes.

Diabetes can lead to cataracts, glaucoma and paralysis of the nerves that control the eye muscles, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists. The most serious condition is diabetic retinopathy, which usually starts with the blood vessels in the eye getting weak. New blood vessels, which tend to be weaker and more fragile, grow on the retina. The new vessels sometimes break and leak blood into the eye, causing scar tissue and resulting in a partial or total loss of vision.

Hooey uses an insulin pump, a smartphone-sized device to deliver a steady flow of insulin.

The pump relies on an infusion set – a thin plastic tube that slides under the skin – that needs to be swapped out every few days. Patients also need to check their blood sugar to ensure the pump is working properly.

Currently, Hooey has to rely on family and friends showing up on Facetime to help deal with the pump when he needs to reset or refill or change the battery.

“I can’t see the screen,” he said. “I can’t even tell you how much battery’s left in my pump right now. . . . If I hit one button wrong, I don’t know where I am.”

For Hooey, the insulin pump is essentially “a fancy syringe” with a AAA battery.

It would be safer and more convenient if the insulin pump had built-in voice technology, Hooey says.

In his work for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Hooey lobbied pump companies and Health Canada to make changes. After having that work put on the back burner during the pandemic, Hooey contacted Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo.

She told him she would proud to have her name on the petition, Hooey said. He needed 500 signatures.

On March 6, that petition – which now has more than 2,200 signatures – made it to Parliament.

“Individuals living with sight loss and diabetes live independent lives but are unable to safely and independently use insulin pumps due to the lack of accessibility features,” Zarrillo said.

The Port Moody-Coquitlam MP called for the Health Canada approval process of new medical devices to include an accessibility assessment, as well as to work with insulin pump manufacturers to address safety concerns with existing devices.

“I’m excited to see where this goes,” Hooey said.

As important as the insulin pump is, Hooey said he hopes this is one step toward universal design that will reduce accessibility barriers for a number of products.

“I’m ready and willing to apply a little bit more pressure, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.”

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