Books and notepads are not the only essentials Staisha Drager carries with her as a student at Brigham Young University.
A Type 1 diabetic, Staisha manages her condition with the help of a cadre of supplies that accompany her everywhere on the Provo campus. An automated insulin pump stabilizes her blood sugar level while items like test strips, backup insulin and emergency snacks are stored away in a unique carryall that serves as an encouraging reminder to “stay well.”
Larue Drager (right) invented the Staiwell Backpack in 1999 to help her daughter Staisha (left) organize and carry supplies that help with management of her Type 1 diabetes. Photo by Craig Howard.
The Staiwell Backpack was invented in 1999 by Staisha’s mother, Larue, a resident of Spokane Valley and a member of the Pines Ward in the Spokane East Stake. The idea came about after previous containers proved bulky, inefficient – or both.
Then there was a time when the Drager family was visiting Seattle and Staisha set down her carton at Pike Place Market. By the time she realized it was missing, the supplies were gone.
“There really wasn’t anything out there that would organize everything where you could just grab it and go,” Larue said. “You’d have things that were basically medical kits.”
The concept was to design a versatile, sporty accessory that could store all the materials needed to monitor and manage diabetes. The intent seemed simple – the process was not.
Larue worked on a variety of sketches and even tried creating her own prototype.
“I tried to sew a few but they didn’t turn out too well,” Larue recalls.
A mishap with a friend’s sewing machine led to Larue calling a Spokane-based company called Robinson Windword that specializes in custom fabric work. Larue brought in her diagrams and soon the first Staiwell Backpack was complete.
Originally, there were no plans to market the product beyond the first backpack – yet word soon filtered out. A friend in the Drager’s ward asked about one for her son, recently diagnosed with Type 1 (or juvenile) diabetes. After awhile, doctors were calling about putting the backpacks in their offices.
Robinson Windword signed on to produce more. Within the first four years, nearly 700 Staiwell Backpacks were being utilized by diabetics in 38 states. The Rockwood Clinic in Spokane and the Northwest Montana Children’s Diabetes Foundation were among the organizations that now supported the cause.
For the namesake of the invention, the backpack represented a significant step up in convenience.
“I think I took care of myself better because everything was right there,” Staisha said. “Everyone knew it was my bag. Literally everything to take care of my diabetes was in there.”
Staisha graduated from Central Valley High School in 2007 and enrolled at BYU-Hawaii before moving on to Provo. Through high school, diabetes proved to be less of a hurdle than a stepping stone. Staisha was active in marching band and church sports while helping others to realize that effective management of the condition sets the tone for a happy and rewarding life.
“I think I appreciate my health a lot more,” Staisha said. “As time goes on, it seems like people are more aware of what’s involved with diabetes.”
Part of the education has to do the distinction between Type 1 diabetes – which occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin as a result of an autoimmune breakdown – and Type 2, characterized by insulin defiency and high blood glucose brought on by weight gain, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. Staisha and Larue would make it a point to present an overview of diabetes to Staisha’s class at the beginning of each school year. Larue also contributed to local efforts by joining the board of a summer camp for kids with diabetes.
As for the signature backpack, it continues to sell on a Web site – www.staiwell.com – though Larue said it is a venture that the family “definitely won’t retire on.” The record sales year totaled around 175. More than the revenue, the project has been about providing support on a journey, hauling cargo that sustains lives.
“I get e-mails from people that say it’s really made a big difference,” Larue said. “I figure if this is going to help someone else, it’s worth it.”
Want to find out more?
To find out more about preventing and managing diabetes, call the Spokane-based Diabetes Education Center at 509-232-8145 or visit www.cherspokane.org. The American Diabetes Association also provides insight at its Web site, www.diabetes.org and through the ADA support line at 1-800-342-2383.