ACTON — Trent Wright of Chelmsford was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 6 1/2 years ago, at age 8. The insulin injections that followed made him faint, said his mother, Cindy Wright.
Her son was a plucky kid who might have soldiered through it, but she wanted to find a better way for him to get the life-sustaining insulin he’d need from then on. One option was a pump with a beeper.
“Trent liked gadgets,” she said, but “all those tubes” were cumbersome.
The solution was a different kind of delivery device, the OmniPod, which administers a soft, virtually painless dose of insulin. It is made by Insulet Corp., which which recently built a $200 million facility in Nagog Park.
The 330,000-square-foot building, which broke ground 18 months ago and is now fully operational, houses Insulet’s corporate headquarters and a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility with expansion plans in the works.
The Wrights were among the guests at a ribbon-cutting ceremony there Thursday, along with many of the company’s 700 on-site employees, top executives and state and local officials.
Gov. Charlie Baker was the keynote speaker. Factory tours followed the ceremony.
Insulet, which has global growth aims as well as plans closer to home that include hiring 300 more workers in Acton, has coined a name for its many thousands of OmniPod customers: podders.
Podders not only embrace the term, some actively advocate, praising the life-changing effectiveness and accuracy of the relatively small, unobtrusive device, which can be worn under clothing and doesn’t need to come off for activities, bathing or swimming.
And according to Cindy Wright, customer service is top-notch. Even the Pod can have technical difficulties, occasional failures, as with most technology, she said, “but we know what to do.” If not, she calls the company and gets immediate response and helpful feedback, every time, she said. “It’s awesome.”
Trent, who attends Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, is a proud podder. So is the father of Insulet President and CEO Shacey Petrovic.
A lifelong diabetic, her dad required 15 daily shots, Petrovic said, calling diabetes a “global epidemic” that Insulet’s pod technology tackles head on. “This is a noble mission,” she said, underscoring her company’s pledge to keep turning out “discreet, precise” devices, needle-free, no pump to disconnect, vastly improving the lives of people with Type 1 diabetes all over the world.
The next generation “dash” is the best on the market, Petrovic said, and the OmniPod is the delivery system most covered by insurance, nationwide.
“Prescribers and users can count on us,” she said.
Fourteen-year-old Emily Kaufman, who sang the national anthem at the ceremony, is a podder, too. She wowed the crowd, acing every note and strong enough to fill a football stadium, as Baker marveled. She did just that at a Miami Dolphins game.
Emily was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9 and before OmniPod’s creation, and faced five or six insulin injections a day. “I hated my life,” she told the crowd. No more, thanks to the Insulet device, which short of not having the disease to begin with, “it’s everything I ever wanted,” she said.
Insulet Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Alpuche said the company is committed to providing consistent, fail-safe service to all customers and to extend its reach to everyone, everywhere.
“Every podder, every time,” is the company’s motto, he said, and the new factory is part of that promise, offering “flawless assembly” and redundancy, meaning no more relying on parts from overseas. OmniPod is a complex product he said, only simple at the user end.
Not only does Insulet want its OmniPod device, including the newest version, dubbed “dash,” to work consistently, flawlessly, but the company wants to expand it’s “bold vision” worldwide, he said.
In a storytelling video rolled out at the event, the Pod was depicted in action, with satisfied customers, including a younger Trent Wright, decked out in sports gear and a wide grin. “I’m Trent … I play everything. I’m a podder,” he said.Ā
That’s how it works for him now, too, making life easier, on the go, said Trent, who plays golf, baseball and is on his school’s alpine ski team.
Trent was born with the Type 1 diabetes gene, his mom said, noting that his grandfather also has the disease. The Wrights also have an older daughter, who does not have diabetes.
Asked how it presented for Trent, she said it wasn’t obvious at first. He was thin, but tall, too, and growing, but then his father noticed increasing thirst and frequent trips to the bathroom. So they took their son to his pediatrician, who did tests.
Today, Trent is soft-spoken, articulate, well-versed about the disease he lives with and the medical device he wears that allows him to do almost anything he wants to do, without restrictions.
“My doctors say ‘be a normal kid,'” he said, and his Pod helps him do that.
The family eats healthy, Trent’s mother said, but unlike other diabetes management systems, he doesn’t have to track every item on the menu and can basically eat what he wants. With a companion monitor and delivery mechanisms in the Pod, which attaches with adhesive backing, (worn above his belt that day, not a trace showed through his neatly tucked shirt) he gets precise insulin doses on cue. “It’s better” she said. And their insurance covers most of it, with a “small co-pay.”
Asked about future plans, Trent said he hasn’t settled on a particular profession, maybe medicine.
But he wants to keep on advocating for people with diabetes who “don’t have a voice,” he said. He’s doing that now, as a youth ambassador for the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation. “I tell my story” at public gatherings, he said.
He has also spoken to kids up close. The nurse at his former elementary school once asked Trent to talk to a kindergarten class in which a students had been diagnosed with diabetes. He read a story to them. Trent hopes to continue his outreach. “You can’t see it, but it’s hard work,” he said.
So what would he say to a youngster with Type 1 diabetes who had trouble adjusting? He shares coping tips, for one thing and his own quietly upbeat, can-do philosophy. “I decided I could just let it happen, or use it to advocate … it’s my gift, in a way,” Trent said.