15 August 2023

Travelling with Type 1 Diabetes: Heleen Discovers the World! 

Heleen was 12 years old when she moved from Belgium to the Netherlands. Not long after, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Still, she hasn’t let the condition stop her from exploring all kinds of places, in every corner of the world. Maybe that was something she learned from her father, who also has type 1 diabetes. “At the time of my diagnosis, I already knew a lot about living with diabetes. Actually, because of that, everything went very naturally from the beginning.” 

Alongside her boyfriend, Heleen travels the world. But her home? That’s Utrecht. She arrived over 18 years ago to study and never left. Her diabetes is, of course, with her every day, but until 2019 she kept it discreet. She used an insulin pen to inject because it helped her feel more incognito. In fact, many people weren’t aware she had diabetes at all. But four years ago, on holiday in Italy, she decided it was time to make a change.  

From insulin pen to Kaleido 

One morning, Heleen was sitting with her boyfriend outside of their tent enjoying the sunshine. After a hearty breakfast, he suddenly asked her, “Shall we go for a walk?” This made Heleen agitated. Sure, she liked the idea, but she’d already injected a lot of insulin for all the carbohydrates she’d eaten! In fact, it would be ideal for her to do nothing active at all for about three hours… At that moment, Heleen knew: with an insulin pump, this would be easier.  

9 months later, she was starting with Kaleido. It was a conscious choice, and she even had to convince her diabetes nurse about her insulin pump choice. But Heleen was determined: Kaleido is exactly right for her. A flexible insulin pump, which she can easily take off, and won’t restrict what she chooses to wear, like if she wants to wear a dress, for example.  

A personalised and colourful pump 

Heleen loves the freedom Kaleido offers her every day, especially when she’s on holiday. She can easily treat and tweak her glucose levels with easy and precise insulin doses. Almost every day she sets a temporary basal rate. If she eats or drinks something, she uses the extended bolus, so part of her insulin is given immediately and she can spread the rest out over two hours.  

What does she like most? That the pump feels so contemporary. The texts in the handset sound very personal, and the colours make using the whole pump system feel good. “It’s not so medical and that feels really nice. You can tell from everything that it was developed by people who understand what it’s like to use this kind of technology.” 

Heleen’s pump has travelled with her to see so many countries. Just this year, she flew to Hong Kong to visit some of her boyfriend’s relatives. Somewhere with temperatures above 35°C and huge humidity needs to be planned for. Each time she travels, Heleen finds it easier to take different climates into account: she has cooler bags for her insulin, she wears something with sleeves when she needs to cover her Kaleido pump from the sun, and these days she doesn’t find it as stressful when a plan goes off-script. 

Relaxing on holiday 

In Hong Kong, Heleen also met her 3-and-a-half-year-old niece for the first time. The little girl was completely mesmerised by Heleen’s Kaleido. But how do you explain to a young child who is half Filipino and half Dutch what it is, and all it does? Heleen explained it as a special box with a special needle. That message clearly landed with her niece. At the end of the holiday, she kept asking Heleen if “the special box” and “the special needle” were still properly in place. Was everything okay? When Heleen assured her all was at it should be, the girl approved with a broad smile: “You are okay!” 

So, is Heleen always relaxed then? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, “because with type 1 diabetes you are never completely relaxed!” Not even on holiday. When it’s hot, Heleen is busy with her diabetes, checking in, adjusting basals, correcting or setting temporary rates. But it’s similar when it’s cold, too! She’s also always thinking about what she has eaten, what she is going to eat next and what, for example, that one glass of red wine will do to her blood glucose. “You can have such a nice holiday, but with type 1 diabetes you never have complete freedom,” she says. 

What helps her is good preparation. So, she keeps several packing lists on her laptop for all of the types of trips she takes. The most important one? The one with all her diabetes stuff, obviously! You can read all about how Heleen organises everything she needs to take with her on holiday in the next blog. 

Heleen is a real holidaymaker. She loves festivals, family weekends and luxury camping in Italy, but also likes to head to Asia with a backpack. Although, she prefers to sleep in a good hotel there rather than a dubious hostel… Heleen likes to be prepared: she has the right packing list ready for every holiday option!