Type 1 Diabetes and flying do mix

It’s no secret that I’m flying around wearing an insulin pump tickled as I can be just to be flying! I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 32, after getting my pilot’s license at 20 and having owned 3 different aircraft.

Nobody could have been more surprised than me when I found myself in a hospital in Florida being diagnosed with diabetes – while on a trip to Disney World! I was thirsty, very sick, had blurred vision, and was vomiting like crazy. I was actually happy when the doctor announced, “You have diabetes” instead of what I thought he was going to say – something more like, “You’ll be dead by morning!” 🙂

This was what my life revolved around for a long time. About 8 of these a day.

Of course, in the years to come you’d never catch me saying I was happy about having diabetes, but I discovered it’s something a person can live with, adapt to, and carry on a whole lot like before. I quickly got over the fear of needles but never got over the fear of not flying again. Back then having Type 1 diabetes meant you could never get a medical again, never fly again.

WHAT?! The FAA says there’s a “No Fly” rule for Type 1 diabetics? Are you kidding me?!

Yep, that’s the truth. But thank heaven, the FAA regs did eventually change, and I’m one of those thrilled pilots who were again able to do what they love – fly!

There is no cure for type 1 diabetes but there is hope on the horizon. In the meantime advancements in diabetes management have been made and, in my opinion, the single most important tool available today is the insulin pump. You can see it in this next picture along with the supplies needed to reset it every 2 to 3 days. Who would have guessed – pancreas optional?!! 🙂

The insulin pump freed me from multiple daily injections.

I went from injecting 8 or 9 small shots every day to just one stick every 2 to 3 days.

And now, the latest and greatest. Just last week I added a new device called a continuous blood glucose monitor that’s a major enhancement to the insulin pump. It’s a very small device that transmits glucose levels to my pump constantly throughout the day and helps me monitor my diabetes the most efficient way. Pretty incredible!

Continuous blood glucose monitor ‘”stuff”.

The long blue thingy is lovingly called the “harpoon”. It blasts the long needle into the skin, then the monitor is attached and blood sugar readings transmit continuously for 3 days. So far I’ve only shot myself with the “harpoon” a few times but I’ve had to talk myself into each time. Hey…..did you see the size of that needle?!!

And that, is what makes all my fun possible!!

If you have a personal story you’d like to tell that relates to flying, I’d love to post it for you. Please email to Lady Taildraggers .

  • Ray Johnson
    Posted at 11:31h, 20 October Reply

    The websters definition of “Enthusiasm” is JUDY BIRCHLER
    Thank you for sharing your very personal story with Type 1 Diabetes.

    Please click on: http://youtu.be/JLcL4VGOk3o

  • Judy Birchler
    Judy Birchler
    Posted at 20:34h, 18 October Reply

    You got my attention on this one Carri. Well, I guess you would be depressed losing your daughter and going through all that too. So is this common knowledge or are you coming out of the closet here? I know there’s a long list of depression meds you can’t get a medical on. You may be as lucky as me to still be flying.

  • Carri Hoagland
    Posted at 18:54h, 18 October Reply

    Nothing is impossible if you have the desire and courage to tackle the insurmountable. I can relate when I called the FAA and said I had a name change, sex change and had been treated for depression. I now fly with a Class 3 medical with no restrictions and life is good.
    Thanks for sharing Judy.

  • Nick Cain
    Posted at 11:20h, 18 October Reply

    Just back from AOPA Summit. Great event. In the AV WEB blogs, lots of complainers these days. Usually about somebody not getting the oil companies to lower fuel costs. Why blame AOPA? Anyway, my reply was… if you have a passion for flying, you will make it happen. If not, you will fade away while complaining.
    YOU… clearly have the PASSION. You have overcome serious obstacles in order to fly. And Taildraggers to boot !!!
    Well done, or good on you as they say downunder. I am impressed. Best of luck and stick with it. Get it?
    Cheers, Nick (husband of a tailwheel flyer)

  • Melissa
    Posted at 08:09h, 18 October Reply

    You make it work! 🙂 Not an easy task with IDDM; but, you get through it! That is awesome! 🙂 What an inspiration to others you can be! Thanks for sharing!

  • Helen
    Posted at 07:54h, 18 October Reply

    Judy…. you are an inspiration on so many different levels. Thank you for being YOU!


  • John Murphy
    Posted at 23:13h, 17 October Reply

    Thanks for sharing another example of a pilot’s love of flying.
    Wishing you well.

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