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Emilie Cloutier, RN

Date Posted: Monday, July 01, 2019


Living with diabetes and treating children with T1D

Emilie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) when she was only 13 months old, so she’s never known life without it.  Now, 25 years later, she’s a pediatric nurse at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence. 

Her first memories of diabetes are from first grade when she would go to the nurse multiple times a day for blood sugar checks.  “Meters have come a long way,” said Emilie.  “Today’s needles are smaller and less invasive, and meters require less blood.”  She also remembers when the “new” fast acting mealtime and basal insulins hit the market after years of NPH and regular insulin.    

Diabetes burnout

After using syringes and eventually pens for multiple daily insulin injections over 13 years, she decided to switch to a pump.  At age 17, Emilie experienced diabetes burnout.  “I can relate to patients who go through it since mine lasted until I turned 20,” she recalls.  “I was a teenager, frustrated with diabetes, tired of testing blood sugars, counting carbs, and wearing a pump.”  Regrettably, she neglected her treatment and did many of the things she now helps young people living with diabetes avoid. 

“I’m very lucky that my three years of rebellion and not being compliant did not do long-term damage,” she said.  “My A1c rose above 12% and I started to develop non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy.  Luckily for me, with improved glucose control my retinopathy resolved and did not progress.” 

Many people who neglect their diabetes are not so lucky.  Uncontrolled blood sugars often lead to serious health complications later in life, including loss of eyesight, kidney failure, heart disease, strokes and foot problems, which may result in amputation.  It’s important to provide accurate information to your diabetes care team so that they can suggest necessary adjustments to keep you healthy.

Emilie understands how fortunate she was to avoid complications despite a few years of uncontrolled diabetes.  She’s witnessed many people who have not been so lucky, and constantly stresses to young people the importance of keeping their blood sugars within target range.

“I’ve heard every trick in the book and sorry to say have used many of them myself when I was a kid,” she said.  “When I was growing up, meters did not collect data and we instead had to write our numbers on a paper log.  We see many young people who ‘forget’ to bring their meter to appointments so that we can’t download their blood sugars.”  

During Emilie’s diabetes burnout period, she took a “pump break” and instead opted for manual injections and finger sticks.  “That way there was no record of my numbers and no accountability.”

Taking control

When she was 19 years old, Emilie transitioned from pediatric diabetes care to the adult clinic at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) with an A1c above 12%.  She eventually got it down to under 6% and credits nurse practitioner Nancy Sidhom and Leslie Domalik, MD

“Nancy let me have it,” she said with a smile.  “She was very blunt with me about what happens to people who don’t take control and properly manage their diabetes.”  

“Dr. Domalik is excellent,” says Emilie.  She set reasonable goals during my first few office visits and instead of focusing on the A1c helped me with small steps to improve glucose control. She didn’t lecture me, but spoke in a way that connected.”  Emilie still receives her diabetes care from Dr. Domalik.  Within a couple of years, utilizing what she learned from Nancy and Dr. Domalik, Emilie’s A1c dropped below 6%.  “My last test was 5.6% and it’s remained below 7% for the past several years.”

Becoming a nurse  

After graduating from a vocational high school, Emilie earned a degree in Nursing at Worcester State University.  Working first at a nursing home, endocrinology office, and diabetes research center, she finally achieved her goal of working as a pediatric diabetes nurse at the UMass DCOE.  “I’ve come full circle,” she said.  I’ve been coming here for treatment since I was a little girl, so now working here and helping other children and young adults is extremely rewarding.”

Best part of being a pediatric diabetes nurse

“Helping my patients make positive changes, no matter how small.”  Emilie points out that it’s scary how some young people don’t even test their blood sugars.  Therefore, getting someone like that to begin to test even once daily is a win.

“Convincing someone to use a CGM.”  She feels they help people pay more attention to their diabetes management, and finds it rewarding when they finally agree to try one and see positive results.

“Relating to my patients.” Older teens and college students feel a connection to nurse Emilie since they know she’s lived with T1D.  Younger teens and elementary school children can look up to her as a role model.  She enjoys the challenge of getting young people to invest in their own health and takes great pride in helping them achieve success.

Advice to Families

“Parents and patients should contact us between appointments during any difficult times.  Don’t hesitate to call or message us using the MyChart app or website.”

“Come to appointments prepared with questions…and bring your meter!”

“Always tell our care team if there’s something you feel would make your diabetes management easier.  We will help any way we can.

“Set realistic goals.  Small steps are less overwhelming and lead to pride, confidence, self-esteem, then eventually can snowball to greater successes and positive outcomes.”      

Staff Spotlight: Emilie Cloutier, RN

- Family: She and her husband have two dogs and two cats
- Favorite TV Show: Grey’s Anatomy
- Favorite Restaurant: Baba Sushi
- Pet Peeve: Misspellings
- Favorite New England Location: Fenway Park
- Favorite Band: Zac Brown Band
- Other Passions: Travel, Reading, Patriots, Bruins & Red Sox
- Favorite Athlete: Tom Brady

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