Visiting Lilly

November 21, 2023

Since CWD team “headquarters” is in Ohio, situated only a couple of hours from Lilly headquarters in Indianapolis, three of our local employees were recently invited to Lilly for an inspiring afternoon. We were invited to present Journey Awards to a handful of Lilly employees who live with diabetes.

Lilly was the first pharmacy company to make insulin in the early 1900’s. In the main building, there is a beautiful hallway featuring the original brick building facades. According to our Lilly partner, Sarah Noel, this hallway still had a residual smell from the decades of bringing in animal pancreases to make human insulin. There is also a museum that holds historical information about Eli Lilly and his family and displays the company’s many contributions to healthcare throughout the last century.

In the museum, the CWD Journey Awards sit prominently displayed alongside the previous generation of Journey Awards. These symbolic “medals” are displayed in the same case as old glass syringes that people with diabetes used to have to boil and reuse. They’re displayed along the photos of the young boy who was the first person with diabetes to receive insulin – the before and after showing an astounding difference.

Among the displays that stood out to me were vials from insulins that are no longer made and historical photos and letters promoting diversity and inclusion within the company from decades ago. There is a replica of the original pharmacy building from the early 1900’s that has vials full of herbal remedies and barks that were used to make medicines in that era. There are pill-making devices that show how much time went into making a simple pill.

Outside of the replica building is a large statue in tribute of people who lived with type 1 diabetes for 75 years or more. There are plaques with names of people who lived through times without blood glucose monitoring, much less CGM. Those patients had to reuse syringes, perform urine glucose monitoring, and use insulin made from livestock pancreases that could cause reactions compared to synthetic insulin. These are things many of us can scarcely imagine – especially those recently diagnosed.

The feeling I had on this tour was that the people who are working in diabetes at Lilly are committed to helping people with diabetes. They recognize the challenges with insulin in the U.S. and worldwide. They support initiatives such as Life for a Child to help provide insulin for children in developing countries who would not have access otherwise. They seemed moved when we discussed our challenges with diabetes and why we want to celebrate our accomplishments through Journey Awards.

In the main lobby of Lilly is a large statue that represents the boy who was first treated with insulin being held by his mother. They erected the statue purposefully as a reminder of why they are there. It is to help inspire people to keep working on development of new treatments, on access to the medications and treatments that they already make. It may be just a job for some, but for many, it’s a life of meaning.

The Journey Awards we presented were four 25-year medals to people who work in various parts of Lilly Diabetes. When CWD Founder, Jeff Hitchcock, presented the awards to the recipients, they gave comments to the group which included things such as, “I had no idea how impactful this was going to be,” and “oh my gosh, thank you!” One young woman who had brought her mother along for the award ceremony thanked her mom for helping her get to this point as a healthy adult. Another woman flew in from New York City to receive her award and she shared stories of working in various aspects of diabetes throughout her life.

It was an inspiring day that left our team feeing grateful for the team at Lilly and excited to continue to collaborate on the Journey Awards.


Written by Marissa Town, RN, BSN, CDCES