Diabetes patients around the world should learn the name "Dana Lewis," because someday soon they'll probably be using her inventions.
The computer whiz from Alabama was living with the everyday problems that all diabetes patients face. Her pancreas was failing to produce insulin, which the body needs to break down sugars and carbohydrates into energy.
Like everyone else with the condition, balancing her insulin and blood sugars was an annoying and dangerous part Lewis's daily life.
"You really do make hundreds of decisions a day about things that impact your blood sugar," the inventor told AL.com. "It's a lot. And it really does impact everybody who cares for a person with diabetes - spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents."
Lewis was using a glucose monitor and an insulin pump, but even that system wasn't perfect.
"I was afraid at night because I am a super-deep, champion sleeper," Lewis said, "I sleep through the alarms on the device that are supposed to wake me up and save my life. I always thought, if only I could get my data off this thing, then I could use my phone or computer to make louder alarms."
With help from another computer geek on social media, Lewis did just that, rigging her phone to ring when her levels dropped too low.
But she quickly realized she could do so much more, and her latest invention is helping to save lives.
After hitching her glucose monitor to her phone, Lewis's next project was a backup alarm.
Since she was living by herself in Seattle, she wanted her family to be able to warn her in case she missed an alarm. That improvement alone saved her life multiple times. Next, she programmed the meter to warn her ahead of a drop in her blood sugar, so she could plan her day more easily.
By then, Lewis realized that if her smart meter could pump insulin by itself, it would be able to work on its own like a healthy pancreas.
With a little help from the online coding community, and her husband Scott Leibrand, Lewis turned her invention into a working artificial pancreas, so small that it works on an insulin pump, a meter, a "Tic Tax box" sized computer chip and a smart watch.
And while commercial versions of the smart pancreas are being made, Lewis has released blueprints and guides for building her life-saving invention for free online.
It takes a little computer know-how, but hundreds of users with diabetes are already relying on the invention to live healthy, stress-free lives.
"This is a really, really meaningful change," Lewis said about the invention, "and I can't imagine going back to what I call the dark ages of not having my family having visibility into my blood sugars and what's going on and the ability to control these things."
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