Vicki Cutshall won’t forget the summer of 1969. It was a summer of milestones for the 10-year-old girl who was living in Minnesota.
Back then, she was looking forward to a family vacation followed by Girl Scout camp. She didn’t know her life was about to change, and that eventually she would be inspired to become a registered nurse and patient educator at St. Luke’s Humphreys Diabetes Center.
Cutshall had a physical scheduled with the family physician prior to the vacation – she needed to complete the physical so she could attend the Girl Scout camp – and a urine test caused concern because it showed high glucose levels. She felt fine at the time, even though her mother said she had noticed she was drinking more and urinating frequently (two signs of diabetes).
When tests confirmed she had type 1 diabetes, Cutshall spent several days in the hospital for treatment.
From her hospital bed she watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
For Cutshall, those two events will always be linked together. She heard Armstrong’s famous words “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” and to this day continues to associate those words with her own journey.
“I was diagnosed on the dawn of diabetes technology,” Cutshall said.
Throughout her life, Cutshall has continued to make small steps and giant leaps. In that hospital room in 1969, Cutshall learned how to give herself insulin injections using a glass syringe. Just a few years later her father brought home a disposable syringe. And then test strips came along, making it easier to test glucose. Today Cutshall uses the hybrid closed-loop pump system, which keeps her glucose level all day.
Cutshall’s family moved to Idaho soon after her diagnosis, where her father took a job as an administrator at Bannock Memorial Hospital in Pocatello. She always had strong support from her family (her grandfather was a St. Luke’s surgeon), and that support helped her stay committed to her health, even though her family was told she would likely have just “10 to 15 good years” following her diagnosis.
“I feel very fortunate,” she said.
Cutshall knew from a young age that she would need to find a good job that offered insurance to afford the cost of care associated with diabetes. She followed a strict regimen to stay healthy, monitoring her glucose, staying active and avoiding sugar and large quantities of carbohydrates.
She also followed her dreams, going to nursing school and getting a job at St. Luke’s in Boise. For the first half of her career, she pursued “adrenaline” positions as a nurse, working in intensive care units and the emergency department along with other high-stress, high-energy departments. When people heard she had diabetes they would suggest she become a diabetes educator, but Cutshall wasn’t interested.
She reached a turning point in 2012 when she was back in
school, studying to become a nurse practitioner. Although her education was
almost complete, she had a sudden change of heart and had an overwhelming
feeling she was going in the wrong direction. The next day, her sister suffered
severe burns when her home exploded. Cutshall, who was on a leave of absence to
finish school, rushed to her sister’s side at a hospital in Salt Lake City. She
continued to provide care for her sister during her recovery. And she thought
about the direction of her career.
“I just wanted to do something meaningful in my life,” Cutshall said. “And then I thought, ‘Ah. Diabetes education.’”
She called Humphreys from the lobby of that Salt Lake City hospital and asked if they had any openings. They told her Judy Davis was about to retire as education director and asked if she would interview for an educator position. That interview opened the door to a new career.
“This is her calling in life,” said Humphreys Administrator Rick Goodwin. “It’s her mission.”
Cutshall has dedicated her adult life to health care and doesn’t have plans to leave that role any time soon. It’s a mutually-fulfilling relationship; it fuels her soul at the same time she is providing support for patients with diabetes.
“I get to work for an organization that really cares about
health,” she said.
Chereen Langrill is a former communications coordinator for St. Luke’s Health System