A smarter dose
Former Big Sky local Michael Fox launching app to battle diabetes
Michael Fox was 12-years-old when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and not long after getting the difficult health news, Michael moved with his family to Italy. This placed him outside “the system of diabetes care” in the U.S., said Fox. Those with type 1 typically inject themselves with insulin before meals. Many use the “carb counting” method to gauge each dose—which needs to be accurately measured or there’s the risk of falling into a diabetic coma.
Throughout his diabetic life, Fox has developed a different system, one he calls “experience-based estimation.”
“That’s how I figured out how to dose my insulin,” explained Fox, who strives to match his insulin dosing to the exact components of each meal.
“For example, if I’m gonna get a sandwich at the Hungry Moose, I can review the other times I had the same or similar sandwiches at the Hungry Moose and see what insulin dose worked the last time,” said Fox, who will soon release a smart phone app letting diabetics systematically track and learn from all the important details. “By reviewing what worked in the past makes it easier to figure out the right dose for the current meal. And the more the app is used, the more specific the insight becomes.”
Fox rolled this kind of machine learning and insights about diet into a master’s degree from Montana State University, where he’s currently an adjunct professor in the College of Health and Human Development. In 2016, his company—DugalHealth—won first place in a mobile app development competition. And this past May, Fox took part in Early Stage Montana, a program to promote tech startups born in the state.
Among Big Sky locals, Fox might be remembered as one of the few guys who worked at Handprints Daycare in the Mountain Village. That was back around 2000, when after arriving with a degree in photography and non-fiction writing from Hampshire College, Fox was ready to take a break from his studies, which concentrated on post-Apartheid South Africa.
He also taught skiing, which is how he met fellow instructor Saskia Ewen. They were married at By Word Of Mouth and have two daughters. They all live in Bozeman now. Michael and Saskia are no longer together, but they share custody of Sophie and Alese. Saskia still does custom paint work, so she regularly comes to Big Sky for jobs and visits with friends.
Michael—who worked for a short time at the Lookout—remains busy in the build up to the launch of his DugalDiabetes app later this summer. The mobile technology will allow diabetics to accurate blend a host of factors—food type, stress, past history—to accurately dial in the ideal dose before eating.
Explaining why he created the app, Fox said, “Rather than wait and cross my fingers and hope that someone else is going to do this, I’m going to do this.”
Fox believes his time in Big Sky helped him find success managing diabetes, and then turn that success into help for others.
“Big Sky and the active lifestyle go hand in hand. Exercise and blood sugar control can be tricky because exercise can make blood sugars go low,” said Fox. “As a children’s ski instructor, I could spend my day helping new skiers figure out how to move around in skis for the first time or I could be skiing the slopes with really practiced skiers. Each had very different impacts on my blood sugars. So I had to be prepared. I always had a Snickers and glucose tabs in my jacket, ready to treat low blood sugar.”
Also, said Fox, “My time in Big Sky introduced me to the can-do mentality and the entrepreneurial spirit. In retrospect, I feel like this was just part of daily conversations. To look around and always be considering how it could be done better, and the belief that each of us has the ability to create the change we are looking for.”
The problem with type 1 diabetics getting their dose wrong is significant and growing, said Fox, adding the annual cost for hospitalizations is approaching $4 billion.
In a follow up email, Fox reached out to those dealing with this disease in Big Sky: “DugalDiabetes is a tool for everyone living with type 1, including parents of kids with type 1 whose efforts to control their child’s blood sugars are monumental. Later this summer, we’ll have the first version of the app on the market for beta testing. If anyone wants to be among the first to try it out or would like to learn more, they can visit www.dugalhealth.com or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.”