My Journey Fighting Fires and Type 1 Diabetes

I wanted to be able to perform at my best without the fear of falling down and needing to adjust my blood sugar levels.

A greater understanding of my chronic illness

By John Cutter Jr.

Ever since I was two years old, I grew up front and center surrounded by flashing red lights from fire trucks and emergency rescue trips alongside my dad, who was a firefighter. Since then, I always felt a special connection to working in this field and was determined to follow in his footsteps and carry the torch as the fifth-generation firefighter. The transition to become an “official” firefighter first began when I started looking into colleges. I knew I was ready to jump-start my college education in fire sciences, and nothing was going to throw me off my course, or so I thought.

Battling the Flames

In July 2008, about a month prior to the start of my first semester at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, I was suddenly brought to the Boston Children’s Hospital after feeling unlike my energetic self. My parents didn’t know what was wrong, but they recognized that many of the symptoms and behaviors I had resembled those of my brother’s friend, who had diabetes. After about a week in the hospital, the doctors confirmed what my family and I had feared: I, too, had type 1 diabetes. Initially, I was shocked by the diagnosis. How could a three-sport athlete who was about to begin training to become a firefighter be chronically sick? I told the doctors I was young and physically fit. I recall jokingly telling them I could run three miles right there in the hospital. But truthfully, I was nervous my diagnosis would hinder my life-long dreams of becoming a firefighter.

Despite the initial shock, I never felt intimidation or fear, because I knew slowing down wasn’t an option. I accepted my diabetes was here to stay, but it wouldn’t define me, my ambition, or my capabilities. More than anything, I was looking for the right answers on how I could attend college and see my dreams through. I knew that before I could become someone’s hero out on the front lines of fire, I needed to take care of my own health. That was when I met Dr. Sanjeev Mehta, MD, MPH, of the Joslin Diabetes Center, who introduced me to what would become my personal hero: a tubeless insulin management system. Considering the demands of college and the next phase of my life as a firefighter, Dr. Mehta introduced me to the Omnipod DASH Insulet Management System to help manage my diabetes. No tubes, daily finger pricks, or worrying about my glucose levels. This tubeless device provides three days of nonstop insulin delivery and allows me to successfully be myself without any fears or doubts about my health.

Fast forward 12 years, and the Omnipod DASH System is still the very same insulin pump that has taken care of me and my diabetes. The only thing that has changed is the size of my support team. My current endocrinologist, Dr. Elena Toschi, MD, has worked with me to make sure I always have the most up-to-date technology so I can conquer anything new that life demands. The Omnipod DASH System is like a friend you always have with you. It has allowed me to live my dreams and continue taking care of others, all while keeping my family’s legacy alive in the fire department.

Taming the Fire

When duty calls, we don’t have the opportunity to stop and take a moment to recover. Being able to run nonstop through extreme elements of nature without taking a break, all while having type 1 diabetes, is truly extraordinary. It wouldn’t be possible without my team, my family, and my tubeless insulin management system. We all know how unpredictable the life of a firefighter and paramedic can be: One minute, we’re participating in water rescue, then aiding in a structural collapse, then conducting a wide-area search and rescue. I wanted to be able to perform at my best without the fear of falling down and needing to adjust my blood sugar levels. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I never envisioned myself being able to be as active and worry free as I am on a daily basis.

Using My Experience

My journey with diabetes and my experience as a firefighter and paramedic have presented me with unique opportunities to serve as a guiding light for the patients I rescue. Now, I have a greater understanding of chronic illness and can apply those skills and insights when I go on firefighter calls. Due to my unique perspective, I’m able to walk into a patient’s bedroom after receiving a 911 call and notice that his blood sugar level is low and recommend certain medical treatments. I try to add an extra level of attention and care to the ones who need it the most in these dire situations. My journey as a first responder with diabetes has had many twists and turns, but it has been the fuel needed to continue fighting and saving others.

John Cutter Jr. is a fifth-generation firefighter and paramedic from Newburyport, Massachusetts, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 18. His diagnosis came to him one month before heading off to Anna Maria College to study fire science and play Division 3 lacrosse. He serves at MASSPORT as well as on the Massachusetts Task Force 1 (MA-TF1). He uses his diagnosis to help advocate for people with diabetes who are seeking affordable therapy and technology, like the Omnipod DASH® System.  

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