As a parent, you do everything within your power to protect your child, but sometimes, illness has other plans. Riley Schwamb was six years old when she began showing symptoms of something out of the ordinary: irregular irritability, frequent thirst, napping and weight loss. Her mother, Cassie, knew something was not right, and her suspicions were confirmed when Riley was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at six years old. T1D is a life–altering autoimmune disease that affects at least 18 million people worldwide, a condition in which the body attacks and kills its own insulin–producing cells. There is no cure. With no family history or previous experience with the disease, Pete,
Cassie and Riley were forced to adjust quickly to late night alarms, countless blood sugar checks and frequent doctor’s appointments and blood draws.
“Managing T1D well takes a lot of time and resilience each day,” Cassie said. “You have to stick to a routine of checking BG, entering data, charging devices, calculating carbs accurately, loading insulin kits, and changing sites on a daily and weekly basis. It’s also a lot of pain. Riley doesn’t get used to being poked. It hurts every time.”
At first, Riley was scared and nervous to be apart from her parents. Pete and Cassie were equally as terrified to be away from Riley, getting up multiple times a night to check her blood sugar. The family was exhausted, and Pete thought, there has be a better way. For the next 3.5 years, Pete set out to tackle this problem, staying up almost every night to come up with a way to make diabetes less difficult to manage, safer, and better for her health.
Fueled by his love for his daughter and a desire to create solutions for her specific issues that he was not finding in the marketplace, Pete created RileyLink. Pete also helped develop Loop, a system which enables an iPhone to control and communicate with Riley’s insulin pump via the RileyLink and uses an algorithm to automate insulin delivery. “Pete helped create an artificial pancreas system that allows us to sleep through the night, be able to see her data and make changes in real time, and trust that she will be kept in a safe range even when we are far from her,” Cassie said. “This man doesn’t even have a college degree, yet because of his love for Riley has managed to build something that is changing so many people’s lives!”
Making Loop accessible to all families is Pete’s next endeavor. The changes Pete and Cassie have seen in Riley’s confidence and their own peace of mind have been transformative, and they hope to share the same benefits with other families struggling with T1D.
And for Riley, she gets to just be a kid. She will always have to be more cautious than her peers, but now, she is gaining confidence to be more independent. She is an avid horseback rider, gymnast and a happy, healthy 11–year–old, looking forward to middle school.
Riley hopes that Loop can help other patients like her. She encourages them to ask for support and help when they need it, to allow themselves to feel sad and angry when they need to, take deep breaths and keep going because T1D’s are amazingly resilient.