Everyday Hero Award: Meet Rita Martin of Ascensia Diabetes Care

Ascensia Diabetes Care is a company that shows their commitment to type 1 diabetes (T1D) every single day.  Each day they go beyond their work continuously improving the CONTOUR®NEXT line of products to personally support JDRF and the families we serve.  Their employees volunteer and attend almost every one of our events around the state, and over the last two years Ascensia has been the largest corporate walk team at our JDRF One Walk, Morris County, providing a nearly combined $100,000 between their sponsorship support and direct fundraising.  We’re so excited to present Rita Martin, Legal and Compliance Head of North America for Ascensia Diabetes Care, as this month’s Everyday Hero.  Her personal story is one of the driving forces for the staff team to always do more to help turn type one into type none!


What is your T1D story?

My daughter, Colleen was diagnosed with T1D on October 9, 1997. She was four years old. We did not have a history of diabetes in our family. After our summer vacation , Colleen was not herself – she was ornery, losing weight, lethargic  – I thought it was just “being 4” and resisting getting back into the routine of walking home from nursery school with her nanny and all the other activities. She wet the bed; something she had not done in years and I noticed she had bad breath. I remember telling her she had to brush her teeth better after she claimed she had brushed her teeth. The weekend before her diagnosis – I was working on a project in our kitchen and remember she kept running into the house to go to the bathroom. Our family had a history of kidney issues and I thought Colleen had a urinary tract infection. I gave her cranberry juice and called the doctor to make an appointment for 2 days later. Colleen went to nursery school and she was lethargic and not happy, the life of the classroom asked her teacher if she could take a nap! The Director called me and I took Colleen to the doctor. Unbeknownst to me the Nursery School Director called the doctor and said to test her urine for sugar.  Thank goodness she called! I have come to learn that type 1 diabetes is often not diagnosed because the signs are not known. Colleen’s blood sugar was 955. She was admitted to the intensive care unit and was there for three days on an insulin drip. As terrified as my husband and I were, the miracle of insulin was incredible, our daughter was back.

Colleen is now 26, living in Southern California teaching Kindergarten. She has a B. A. in Elementary Education and Special Education from Providence College, and a M.A. in Reading Instruction from Loyola Marymount University. Colleen enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees, going to the beach and bike riding.

I am Legal and Compliance Head North America for Ascensia Diabetes Care. I have worked for this group for thirteen years. It has been a unique experience to work in the diabetes arena during the day and then go home at night to live the world of diabetes. I have been known to offer my personal perspective more than once. I am happy to share Colleen’s story because what Ascensia does for people with diabetes is SO important and their efforts to produce a quality product impacts my daughter’s life


What are you most proud of when you think of your daughter?

Colleen says that diabetes has made her who she is today but it does not define her. I am so proud of Colleen for accepting the fact that she has diabetes and is dealing with it.  She is a beautiful, caring, and funny person. Her empathy, perseverance, confidence, dedication and bright spirit are the cause of rising above daily challenges from having diabetes. She is not intimidated by anything and is willing to take risks and try anything. As her Mom, I worry about her, yet time and time again she has shown me I have nothing to worry about for she can take care of herself and will travel and live wherever life takes her.  I take her statement as a high compliment to my husband and me. We were determined to make sure that she had a “normal” life. She has diabetes. Diabetes does not “have” her.


How did you get connected to JDRF?

While Colleen was still in the hospital a friend of a friend heard about Colleen’s new diagnosis and called. She was truly a blessing as she herself had a child with T1D.  No one understands what it’s like to care for a child with type 1 unless you are going through it yourself. Her support in the beginning was invaluable. Colleen and I have both passed on our knowledge when we hear about a child being diagnosed. It is a way to pay it forward. This same friend introduced us to JDRF through the JDRF One Walk.


How has JDRF impacted your family’s lives?

It is so important to support finding a cure. The One Walk was something that used to leverage our community and put the focus for and “on” Colleen. To show her that people cared and were supporting her in her “Fight” against diabetes everyday as they walked for the cure and raised money to find a cure. We were amazed and it was truly heartwarming to have the financial and actual in-person support of family, friends, schoolmates and neighbors participate in the walks. Colleen loved to design her shirts and participate in the contests for the best shirt or most monies raised. She still to this day has the shirts framed in her bedroom at my house. When Colleen was in high school she and a classmate used the opportunity to create awareness amongst their peers who supported the girls walk team.


What about diabetes care and research is most promising to you?

The most promising aspect is that every day there is more information being deciphered which hopefully will be the key to the cure. JDRF is at the forefront of research for T1D community and I pray that someday there will be a cure. BUT in the meantime the advances in technology: accuracy , smaller blood drop samples, pumps, continuous glucose monitoring, closed loop systems and artificial pancreas all work to make living with diabetes easier.

  • While the cure is still on the horizon, research moves us closer every day. In the meantime, technological advances over the last 22 years have allowed me to sleep easier with Colleen across the country because her CGM assures me that her blood sugars are in range even from 3,000 miles away.


What advice would you give to another parent whose child was just newly diagnosed?

The advice that I would give would be to:

  • “Breathe”
  • Remember that your child has diabetes but diabetes does not have your child
  • Focus on your child and your family to create the routine that works for your child to ensure that diabetes does not run your life
  • Learn as much as you can about T1D, be open to suggestions and ask questions. Colleen went on a pump at 6 because her doctor kept pushing the idea and answered all my questions
  • Seek out others that know what you are going through


What does a cure mean to you?

A Cure to me means that they have discovered how to prevent T1D. It would be an amazing day to think that perhaps Colleen’s efforts and experiences contributed to finding a cure.  Until then I truly appreciate the efforts of so many people, companies and organizations that work so diligently to support the lives of people with diabetes with innovative quality products.

Support Team Ascensia or register your own team today at any of our 5 walks across the state to join them!