Silicon Valley Rocks!: Alan, you are the new executive director of the California and Hawaii chapters of the American Diabetes Association. How did you end up in this role?
Alan Kissick: I guess the story starts about 15 years ago for me. I was working in marketing communications at a marketing agency and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I went into something called diabetic ketoacidosis, which is essentially when the sugar stays in your bloodstream and is unable to get into your cells. I stopped producing insulin, and insulin is the key that opens the door to the cells to feed them nutrition. When it stays in your bloodstream, it becomes incredibly toxic. That’s when you see some of the signs and symptoms of diabetes which include excessive thirst, weight loss, fatigue, etc.
Silicon Valley Rocks!: That sounds really scary. How old were you at the time?
Alan Kissick: I went to the hospital and to dialysis. Now, unfortunately, diabetes at many hospitals do not have a dedicated center for people with diabetes. I was 25 years old, and I found myself surrounded by patients suffering from complications of diabetes. That really scared me. I had a lot of questions. I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to eat. As I was leaving the hospital, the nurse gave me a brochure and said, “Here’s the 24-7 hotline, 1-888-DIABETES, that you can call with any questions that you might have.”
So, I called that number and was given other resources like Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and other materials, but those pamphlets weren’t really speaking to me because they didn’t really cover the condition for people my age—25 years old. I found the information that I was looking for with the American Diabetes Association and was able to get some of the answers on forums and through a community of people that were more like me.
Silicon Valley Rocks!: How did you engage with the ADA at that point?
Alan Kissick: I got involved with a bike ride in support of the ADA called the Tour De Cure. At that event, I actually found that there were thousands of people just like me participating, a kind of peer-to-peer support mechanism. It’s also a challenge since it’s a 100-mile bike ride. I had this fitness goal that I could train for all year round to help me keep my blood sugar in check. So, that experience actually led me to join the American Diabetes Association. I was really excited about the cause, and before I knew it, I became the associate manager of the tour in the Virginia area about 15 years ago.
Silicon Valley Rocks!: So your whole life changed as a result of this diagnosis and set you on a new course professionally?
Alan Kissick: Yes. The diagnosis of diabetes has taken me on this wonderful journey, and actually, all across the world. I was at the American Diabetes Association in DC/VA for five years from 2005 to 2010 and then the International Diabetes Federation for another five years. And then more recently I joined the ADA again, about a year ago, as the executive director of Northern California and Hawaii where I oversee operations and administration. We do a number of events, research projects here in the Bay Area, and so much more.
Silicon Valley Rocks!: So tell me, I’d heard that you were in the tech industry before. Is that true?
Alan Kissick: Yes, exactly. It’s a little known story. I had left the marketing agency to pursue my own tech startup on digital receipts before anyone was thinking about them. Just after I quit my job, I was diagnosed with diabetes. I had to get insurance as I could not live without insulin.The startup was kind of a night job, but I found that my real passion was working with the Diabetes Association and helping people with diabetes.
Silicon Valley Rocks!: What is the mission of the ADA?
Alan Kissick: The mission of the American Diabetes Association is to prevent and cure diabetes and improve the lives of anybody affected by diabetes. So, we address all types of diabetes:
-Type 1, which is the auto-immune response type and used to be called juvenile diabetes.
-Type 2, which is oftentimes related to genetics, lifestyle, used to be called adult-onset diabetes.
-And also gestational diabetes, which is a type of diabetes that emerges during pregnancy and goes away, usually, after pregnancy.
Still to this day, unfortunately, people are developing diabetes earlier and earlier. There are a lot of social determinants affecting people just in the United States alone. There are over 30 million people living with diabetes, and in California, we have 4 million people living with diabetes. And then also 84 million people living with pre-diabetes, a condition in which you have higher than normal glucose in your blood. Unfortunately, more people are getting Type 2 diabetes, and it is becoming a very alarming situation that will likely overwhelm the healthcare system.
Silicon Valley Rocks!: Those are kind of staggering statistics. Will we find a cure for diabetes?
Alan Kissick: We are far from a cure, unfortunately, for Type 2 diabetes. But we’re getting a little bit closer to a cure for Type 1 diabetes. We’re able to identify that Type 1 diabetes is associated with certain antibodies and identify those through genetic research. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, and with all the immunotherapy products that are emerging, there’s promising research that may lead to finding a cure in our lifetimes.
Silicon Valley Rocks!: How can people get involved and support the ADA?
Alan Kissick: I encourage people to attend events like Silicon Valley Rocks! on December 3rd, and similar events like the Silicon Valley Tour de Cure on June 14th, so that we can raise awareness of our agenda, research, and advocacy. On that note, ADA is the largest advocacy shop for diabetes. We’re fighting key issues like insulin affordability, CGM reibursement and access, and much more! You may have heard that insulin has become the most expensive liquid in the world. When I first was diagnosed with diabetes, I could buy a vile of insulin for $50, and now it’s over $200 a vile. And a lot of people, unfortunately, are rationing it because they can’t afford it on a daily basis which leads to a lot of medical complications.
We are a volunteer organization, and we have been around for 80 years. Every office is volunteer-driven so we are always looking for volunteers ranging from the volunteer leadership board opportunities to day-of-event volunteers.