NEWS | November 24, 2020

Emeritus professor, an inventor of the plug-in hybrid car, harnesses new technology to control his diabetes

HME classes, dietitians available through UC Davis Health to help manage diabetes

As an inventor of the plug-in hybrid electric car, Andrew (Andy) Frank is no stranger to innovation and technology. Frank, a UC Davis emeritus professor of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, is widely recognized as the “father” of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and one of the most influential people behind the movement.

UC Davis emeritus professor Andy Frank and daughter Alix Watson have tackled his diabetes with new technology. UC Davis emeritus professor Andy Frank and daughter Alix Watson have tackled his diabetes with new technology.

Although retired from UC Davis, the 87-year-old Frank continues to embrace technology and innovation – but now, instead of transforming cars, he’s transforming his health.

For more than a year, Frank and his daughter, Alix Watson, have been working closely with UC Davis Health nurse Gabby Burt, a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, to better manage Frank’s diabetes and fluctuating blood sugar levels.

“Diabetes isn’t just about high blood sugar. Blood sugars often unfortunately swing from very high to very low values,” Burt explained. “This is concerning as you don’t want a low blood sugar to cause dizziness, a fall or an injury.”

Burt suggested that Frank try using a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), a small device that monitors blood sugars every 5-15 minutes throughout the day, providing insights into exactly what may cause a high or low blood sugar, or what patterns may emerge from day to day.

“It’s not like I didn’t believe Gabby when she made suggestions or observations,” Frank said. “But I think that the CGM’s data was really powerful to me – it provides classic feedback and helped me to connect what I ate to how it affected my blood sugars.”

Diabetes education resources at UC Davis Health

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is interested in working with a nurse or dietitian specializing in diabetes, ask your doctor for a referral.

To register for a free health education class, please reach out to the Health Management and Education Department by calling 916-734-0718, visiting the registration page at or signing up directly from MyUCDavisHealth.

HME has a variety of virtual diabetes education classes recognized by the American Diabetes Association.

Frank said he also appreciates that the device will alert him if his blood sugar levels go too far out of range: “One morning at 5 a.m., I had an alert that my blood sugar was going low, [so] I got up and had some fruit and brought it right up.”

As for the new technology, Frank and his daughter found that working together with Burt to master the device worked best.

“There is a huge learning curve, but there’s an equally huge payoff; we hoped for that payoff, and it’s better than expected,” Watson said. “Now, [my father]’s often within 95 percent of his ideal blood sugar range – the best of any of Gabby’s patients.”

Watson was also quick to credit Burt’s guidance and expertise, saying “everyone should have a Gabby.”

“Gabby spent extra time with us and had an immense amount of patience with us – this made all the difference,” Watson explained.

“It’s like any other high-tech application, there’s an initial start-up phase which can be overwhelming and difficult, but once you get over that, it’s not a big deal,” Frank added. “You do it a couple times and then hopefully you have the routine set up.”

After mastering the CGM, Frank then had to navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic, the effects of which have seeped into his daily routine of exercise and meal planning.

Prior to the pandemic, Frank participated in group exercise classes at his gym and indulged in a few takeout meals throughout the week. Now, he faithfully exercises in front of a screen at home and has groceries delivered to his door to minimize contact with others.

“I exercise three times a week, varying between aerobic and strength training, right in my living room on Zoom,” Frank said. “COVID has been a double-edged sword as we now cook food at home instead of eating out – it’s been an adjustment, but I am eating more fruits and vegetables.”

“My diabetes is not going to go away,” he added, “the only thing I can do is reduce the long-term effects and keep my blood sugar under control in the short term.”