Morgan Feight shares the secrets to summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro successfully

Dec 08, 2016

t:slim Insulin Pump User Morgan Feight and her identical twin sister, Megan, studied in Tanzania through a University of Georgia study abroad program. They extended their trip to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro with classmates and their professor before heading home to the U.S.1 The extent of the sisters’ hiking experience was only a little around their local North Georgia Mountains and one other international trip with family. Three members of their group didn’t make it to the summit due to dislocated hips, a herniated disk, and altitude sickness, but Morgan summited with a smile! Here she shares the secrets to summiting successfully. 

Why did you want to take on this challenge?
I saw climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro as a wonderful opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I recognized that the journey would test my mental stamina and capacity for perseverance, and I wanted to push myself to really grow.

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Did you make any special arrangements for international travel? Thankfully, the diet in Tanzania consists mostly of rice, meat, beans, and potatoes and is not dramatically different than American food. So, carb counting was pretty straight-forward. I brought an adapter for the wall outlet to charge my pump in our hotel.

I got a travel loaner insulin pump from Tandem in case my current insulin pump had any issues during the trip, while I was outside of Tandem’s replacement area. I did not have to use the pump and ultimately sent it back, but it was comforting to know there was a back-up pump available in the case that I needed it. I also packed long-acting Levemir insulin pens and short-acting Humalog insulin pens as another back-up plan.  

Please share the creative and touching way your fellow climbers helped you stay prepared for hypoglycemia!
Because I did not climb with any medical personnel or people living with diabetes, I was anxious about experiencing any diabetes-related complications or running out of low snacks in the middle of the trip. But, my fellow climbers kindly supported me during the climb by each carrying 1 juice box in their day pack. That way, I didn’t have the burden of 25 juice boxes weighing me down, yet the juices were always at my disposal. It was so sweet, because every time I would pull out my meter to check my BG, someone would inevitably turn around and proclaim, “Morgan, I have that juice for you!” Even when my BG was high, they would try to help in the only way they knew how, which was to whip out their juice box. I actually only had to drink 3 juice boxes during the entire climb, so as a thank you to my fellow climbers, I encouraged every person who carried a juice box to keep the juice for themselves. After we crossed the exit gate at the base of the mountain, they all drank their juices during our celebration meal!

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Did you need to adjust your insulin needs for the activity on the trail? How does it differ from what you do when you are home?
I live an active lifestyle as a member of the UGA Flagline. From spinning flags to running to cycling, I am used to moderate levels of physical activity, and I typically rely on activating temporary basal rates when exercising.On the first day of the climb, I expected that climbing would require high levels of energy expenditure, so I created a new profile in my pump with basal rates that were 50% of my normal levels. However, because we climbed about six hours per day, the pace at which we hiked was relatively slow compared to how quickly I typically climb on a short day hike. My blood sugars were very high on that first day, so I deleted the temporary profile and bumped my basal rates back up to their normal levels. For the rest of the climb, I used a low carb ratio but maintained my normal basal rates.

What did the hike teach you about your diabetes?
The hike taught me that my body can handle a lot more than I thought it could. It’s easy to feel slight weakness and assume the fatigue is due to low blood sugar. I learned to distinguish fatigue caused by exhaustion as opposed to that of low blood sugar.

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What is the biggest challenge that diabetes brings to your life? 
When my blood sugar either rises above or drops below the target range, it can be inconvenient to feel negative symptoms while I’m trying to go about my extremely busy daily schedule. But, living with diabetes has taught me to truly be flexible in the face of less than optimal circumstances. I have overcome so much in attempting to manage my diabetes that other obstacles in life are not as intimidating.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in yourself since your diagnosis?
From the day I was diagnosed, God gave me an overwhelming sense of peace that enabled me to accept the title “diabetic” as a badge of honor. I have been amazed to see how the result of this diagnosis made me more responsible and mature. I recognize that I have the distinct honor of not only educating people about type 1 diabetes, but also explaining how God provides us with the perspective we need to come through a challenge even stronger. 

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Have you always used an insulin pump? If not, what aspects of pump therapy were appealing to you when you made the switch? 
I used multiple daily injections for six months following my diagnosis in February 2005 at age 11. Then, I switched to the pump because basal rates are easier to adjust compared to a daily shot of long-acting insulin. Not to mention, typing a bolus into my pump is way more convenient than giving myself a shot every time I eat. 

After using a pump for about five years, I had the desire to switch back to shots. I just wanted to change things up a bit. It only took me about three months on shots to decide that the pump is the most effective treatment method for me in the long run, and more convenient than administering insulin via syringe after every meal or snack. Once I went back on the pump, I noticed that my diabetes management improved.

How did you hear about insulin pumps by Tandem?
My endocrinologist told me that that there was a new touch-screen insulin pump that delivers insulin through micro-delivery technology as opposed to a mechanical plunger, and I felt that this new pump was the better option. As trivial as it sounds, typing in a blood sugar on a screen that shows a 0-9 numerical keyboard instead of holding the “up” button until you reach your current BG makes a big difference in the timeliness of daily boluses.

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Do you feel supported in your journey with diabetes?
I am very independent in regard to managing my diabetes, but my mom, dad, and sister are always the first people to support me in all aspects of my life, especially with my diabetes management.

In particular, Megan displays such honorable selflessness and is always ready to help me in any way. During the climb, she was the only person in the group who knew anything about diabetes management. She would ask me, “How’s the good ‘ole BG?” and it meant a lot to have someone with me who related with my concerns. 

What’s your next adventure?
Climbing Mount St. Helens in Washington with my sister.

If you could be on the cover of any magazine next month, which magazine would you want it to be, and what would the caption be?
Guideposts; “Insulin: The Secret to a Successful Summit”

Do you have any diabetes tricks or tips you want to share with the community?
I encourage people using an insulin pump to take advantage of the temporary basal feature. I use a temporary basal anytime I know I am about to exercise or if I feel myself slowly dropping. It’s a great alternative to having to shove tons of sugar and protein down your throat.

If you place a glucose meter in your purse/backpack, next to your bedside, in your kitchen, and a few other high-trafficked locations in your daily schedule, remembering to check your blood sugar will become much easier. If you structure your daily schedule in a predictable manner, you can manage your blood sugars more effectively and ultimately focus on other aspects of your life. 

I would encourage people to organize their diabetes supplies in a three-tiered plastic container with pull-out drawers. It’s handy to have a drawer full of insulin pump sites; another for your insulin, needles, cartridges; and one for your meter, ketone strips, etc. The more organized you keep your supplies, the easier you can keep up with your inventory and access things when you need them.

Be proud of how you live your life with diabetes! Don’t be embarrassed to pull out your insulin pump when you are sitting at lunch with someone for the first time. Most people are intrigued to learn about diabetes and yearn to hear your first-hand account. 

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1 Rapid changes in altitude or gravity can affect insulin delivery and cause injury. As a reminder, avoid exposure of your Tandem Pump to temperatures below 40°F (5°C) or above 99°F (37°C), as insulin can freeze at low temperatures or degrade at high temperatures. CHECK your blood glucose using a blood glucose meter following a gradual elevation change of up to 1,000 feet, such as when snow skiing or driving on a mountain road. Delivery accuracy can vary up to 15% until 3 units of total insulin have been delivered or elevation has changed by more than 1,000 feet. Changes in delivery accuracy can affect insulin delivery and cause injury. Tandem insulin pumps have been tested at altitudes up to 10,000 feet at standard operating temperatures.

From time to time, we may pass along: suggestions, tips, or information about other Tandem Insulin Pump user experiences or approaches to the management of diabetes. However, please note individual symptoms, situations, circumstances and results may vary. Please consult your physician or qualified health care provider regarding your condition and appropriate medical treatment. Please read the Important Safety Information linked below before using a Tandem Diabetes Care product.

Important Safety Information