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Peg Olsen

60 Years with Type 1 Diabetes

Date Posted: Monday, April 04, 2022


Peg Olsen celebrated her 60th anniversary with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) during the summer of 2021. She was diagnosed at 9 years old on August 3, 1961, at what then was called New England Deaconess Hospital.

Her first diabetes doctor was just starting his own practice in Norwood, after completing a fellowship with Dr. Elliot Joslin. Dr. Joslin, born in Oxford, Massachusetts in 1869, became the first physician in the United States to specialize in diabetes care. 

Peg moved around quite a bit throughout the years and has been cared for by at least ten endocrinologists. She met her current and long-time endocrinologist, Dr. Michael Thompson at UMass Memorial’s Diabetes Center of Excellence, while working as a sales representative for Accu-Chek blood glucose meters in 1983.

“Glucometer technology was head and shoulders above when my mother used to boil my urine on the stove in a copper reagent multiple times each day,” she said. “Eventually, a tablet was developed that was dropped into urine to test sugars levels, using a color chart similar to today’s urine ketone tests.” 

Peg recalls her first few years of insulin injections using reusable syringes and needles that had to be sterilized by boiling them before each use. Finally, disposable syringes became the norm.


For more than 40 years she chose to manage diabetes with needle injections and tested her blood sugar manually throughout the day. It wasn’t until 2002 that Peg agreed to try an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM). 

During our Zoom conversation, her Dexcom G6 CGM indicated she was going low, so she addressed it by drinking apple juice. Still low after 15 minutes, she took a glucose tablet which helped to raise her blood sugar. She has never been able to feel symptoms of low blood sugar, but since she was a child, Peg would occasionally get seizures due to hypoglycemia. 

“My parents used to make me sleep on a creaky bed so they would hear if I had convulsions during the night,” she said. “But I never missed a day of school!”

Dr. Thompson finally convinced her to use an insulin pump and CGM by telling her that it would likely reduce her hypoglycemic seizure episodes. Peg has had 8 seizures over the past 20 years. “Prior to that, I would have 14 to 16 each year.” She’s also hypersensitive to insulin and likes how the pump allows her to dose fractions of a unit.

After high school, she applied to New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing, but they wouldn’t allow her to live in a dorm because she had diabetes. Instead, she applied to Fitchburg State College and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. 

Between her junior and senior years, Peg spent the summer at the Barton Diabetes Camp in Oxford, MA as a nurse’s aide. “They did a nice job of educating the campers in a fun way,” she said. “We went on camping trips and did activities with the kids in addition to teaching them how to manage their diabetes.” 


She went on to work at Norwood Hospital, Deaconess Hospital, served as the Town Nurse in Tyngsboro and spent time at the VNA in Worcester as a liaison nurse at UMass Memorial. “The pediatric care team asked me to speak to the parents of children with T1D, because they were more scared about the risks of diabetes than the kids were,” she said. “At that point I had been living with T1D for more than 30 years and told them that if you keep your blood sugars under control, you can minimize the risks of complications from diabetes.”  

She also worked as an inpatient care manager for Fallon Community Health Plan before becoming an Accu-Chek sales rep for Boehringer Mannheim Diagnostics. “My territory was Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and all of Massachusetts outside of Boston,” she said. “Three years later I was down to two Massachusetts zip codes and became very bored.”

“She’s taught me a lot about perseverance and resiliency,” said nurse practitioner Nancy Sidhom

Peg likes the team approach to care at the Diabetes Center of Excellence. “I find endocrinologists typically attack diabetes from a science perspective and diabetes educators and nurse practitioners like Nancy, focus more on day-to-day life,” she said.  “Dr. Thompson is unique in that he’s on both sides, which is why I’ve stayed with him for so many years. Nancy is very easy to talk to and understanding. If something isn’t working, she always has other options for me to try.”

She says both providers have a thorough understanding of the latest diabetes management technology.  “They understand that what works for me today might not work tomorrow, and they’re always available to provide suggestions and solutions,” she added. “That’s the benefit of a dedicated diabetes clinic.”

After 60 years and counting, Peg’s advice to people newly diagnosed with T1D is to pay close attention to the diabetes education and be open to new ideas.  “If something isn’t working for you, be willing to try something else. You have to be flexible because diabetes is not a consistent medical condition.”

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