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A Lifetime Of Helping To Improve The Lives Of Those With Diabetes: Kelly Joy

Kelly Joy's MotherToday, I am so pleased to introduce you to Kelly Joy, the Senior Director of Education and Professional Relations here a Medtronic. Kelly has devoted her life to improving the lives of those living with diabetes. Growing up with her mother having type 1 diabetes, Kelly knows first-hand the impact that diabetes has on the family unit. She has worked for Medtronic for over 25 years, and has held a variety of positions within the organization over that time. Read about her incredible diabetes journey below and please join me in thanking her for the endless passion and continued dedication toward helping to improve the lives of those living with diabetes she has shown over the years.

Q. First, let’s talk about your connection to diabetes.

A. My mother has type 1 diabetes, and the first time I gave her an injection of glucagon, I was 8 years old. Later, she was a nurse involved in the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), and then she went to work for device companies, including MiniMed, where she was one of the first few employees.

My stepfather also has type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump. Back in the early 1980’s, he was a racecar designer and was told he was going to go blind as a result of his diabetes. This was certainly not going to work with his career, so he got involved in a clinical study of an insulin pump. That’s where he met my mother who was his nurse.

They’re now married and have both lived with diabetes for over 50 years. They are both healthy and travel all over the world together. My step-dad still drives around Southern California in his Tesla so, fortunately for those of us who live here, his vision is just fine.

Q. How do you think growing up in a household with someone with diabetes affected you and your work at Medtronic?

A. Pump therapy changed everything for me and my family. My mother went on an insulin pump back in 1981, and it actually took us a few months to realize how much our lives had changed – because we weren’t going to the emergency room or calling an ambulance anymore. My mother started making different decisions because she might be around longer and we were all operating differently. Because of this, I was immediately passionate about making sure those kinds of advantages can be brought forth to other people with diabetes and their families. Since then, I’ve been devoted to whatever helps people with diabetes live better.

Q. How did you come to work at Medtronic?

A. I was in my senior year of college and took a job on the nighttime call-center for the HelpLine, what we call the “graveyard shift”. This was back in the days when we had beepers. We didn’t stay in the building because there were so few calls, so would take phone calls from home. The beeper would go off and we’d respond to the answering service and then called the patient back. Then we’d write out the report on a sheet of paper and fax it to the office in the morning before going to school. This is of course a lot different from today where we have an entire center in San Antonio, TX and Northridge, CA dedicated to customer care, including a team of people onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help our customers, as well as online education through myLearning and social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and The LOOP.

This was my first job out of college, and it was like a light bulb had gone off in my head. I thought to myself, “I can earn money and do something I really believe in.” There was no question, it solved everything for me and over the years, I’ve worked in lots of roles in lots of different departments. I’ve worked with the HelpLine Team, Customer Service Team, Regulatory, R&D [Research and Development], in the field as a sales representative, and in Marketing.

Q. Can you tell us about your role today?

A. The great thing about our team is that we’re under Dr. Francine Kaufman, so we’re very involved in the research and all of the new advancements, which is fun. The most interesting part of the job is how the clinical experts on my team get to be a resource to every department. That just means it’s extremely dynamic because they can do something as narrow as work on a new education piece for a specific product, to going to their next meeting on assessing call trends about a situation our customers have with their pump and how to improve the education experience.

Our goal in life is to always invent products that are easy to do right and hard to do wrong, and make sure each patient knows how to optimize their therapy. You’ve got a really sophisticated device and not everyone is using all of the elements of it. We’re just trying to figure out ways to get more and more help into the equation.

Q. How has the world of pump therapy changed since you joined Medtronic? What do you think has been the most significant advancement so far?

A. The insulin pump my mother used is what is known as the big blue brick (pictured above), and it had a flashing red light, an exposed syringe, and was just a giant piece of mechanical equipment. It weighed about three pounds and hung from her belt. It was huge. It was the first insulin pump in the United States that was used for research.

Along the way, I’ve been deeply invested in every feature change that gets implemented, particularly those that makes someone’s life with diabetes easier. To me, the quick release infusion set in 1994 was big because it allowed patients to disconnect from the pump for showers and swimming. The next big one was being able to transmit the blood glucose meter readings over to the pump as part of the Bolus Wizard in 2003, and most importantly of all, combining a pump and CGM.

Q. Now, looking forward, what are you most looking forward to on the horizon?

A. There is just no question that upcoming technologies on the path to the artificial pancreas that more closely mimic the functions of a healthy pancreas will be amazing. I think anything you can automate is better than what someone can do on their own. It goes back to relieving the burden so that people with diabetes can do more and worry less.

Q. How does what you do here at Medtronic impact people with diabetes?

A. In the end, all that matters is that people with diabetes have better outcomes, right? That’s what we really care about. We do a whole bunch of things to hold the patients hand through an education process or teach them how to optimize, but none of it matters unless they actually have better control in the end. And that’s where we’re always focused.

Q. Recently the Diabetes Online Community started using the term “Type Awesome” to describe the friends and family who love and support people with diabetes. What do you think of the term? Do you consider yourself a Type Awesome?

A. I don’t know. I love the idea that once one family member has diabetes that everybody has it and it’s a family disease. To the people we serve, and the people in my family, we all are a part of this. From that perspective, I love it. But besides that, every family has a situation of some sort, and it is everyone’s job to be awesome to someone.


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