People to Know 2018: Anastasia Albanese-O’Neill, PhD, CDE
One day in 2006, on a drive to school, 5-year-old Cassidy O’Neill listened as her mother described some of the research my team and I were doing to determine the causes of type 1 diabetes. Cassidy, a patient of mine who had been living with the condition for three years at that point, was encouraged by what she was hearing but thought surely there was more that could be done. She asked her mom: “What are you doing to cure diabetes?”
“At the time, I was the marketing director at a college, so the answer was ‘not much,’ ” says Anastasia Albanese-O’Neill. “After I dropped her off, I sat in the parking lot and thought about it for a long time. Maybe I could do something in the field.”
Something, indeed. She went on to earn an advanced nursing degree, become a certified diabetes educator, and get a PhD in nursing science. Over the past 10 years, she has not only treated kids with diabetes but also worked as a clinical researcher (she’s currently looking at the role of technology in type 1 management) and advocated for the rights of people with type 1.
I can’t say that I’m surprised. When Anastasia and her husband, Dan, walked into my office 15 years ago to discuss the possibility of my becoming Cassidy’s physician, I could see that she had all the qualities of a change agent. In a meeting that lasted for two hours, she grilled me: What was my health care philosophy? What was I doing to find a cure for diabetes? Could I be the caring, supportive doctor her daughter deserved? In that moment, she was a mom advocating for her child who had type 1 diabetes. Now, she’s doing the same for all children with diabetes.
In the months following Cassidy’s diagnosis, Anastasia saw how devastating diabetes could be if you didn’t have access to health care and supplies. But after she began working as a nurse, she started to see the impact of insufficient knowledge. “What I’m proudest of is helping a school nurse or a parent or an administrator walk through their fear of type 1 diabetes,” she says. “It’s out of fear or a lack of education that people think kids with diabetes shouldn’t do what other kids get to do. It’s those small victories that keep me going.”
Desmond Schatz, MD, is professor and associate chairman of pediatrics at the University of Florida Diabetes Institute in Gainesville and associate director of the university’s Clinical Research Center. He has been involved in type 1 diabetes research since the mid-’80s. In 2016, he served as President of Medicine & Science for the American Diabetes Association.(Photo courtesy of Jesse Jones, UF Health Communications)