After Eileen Smith was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes four years ago, she went in search of a medical ID bracelet to wear in case she suffered a hypoglycemic episode away from home.
She bought a standard bracelet at the drug store, but it broke. Upscale medical jewelry made of gold was too expensive. So Smith, of Kansas City, Mo., was excited to discover Lauren's Hope, which sells affordable medical costume jewelry that is, importantly, pretty.
"The people who wear (medical jewelry) are often people who don't have very pretty lives," said Smith, 56, whose own not-so-pretty routines include taking insulin shots four times daily. Her medical alert bracelet, which has red garnet stones and gold beads, helps boost her morale, she said.
To combat the stigma that dissuades some people from wearing lifesaving medical jewelry, several companies sell stylish bracelets, necklaces and watches that look like regular jewelry but for a symbol — usually the Star of Life or Rod of Asclepius — alerting health professionals to a medical condition. Jeweler Rogers and Hollands this month announced its retail stores will sell medical ID bracelets from Abbe Sennett Design, which uses Swarovski crystals and other semi-precious gems to jazz up customized plates describing a penicillin allergy or heart condition (medicalidfashions.com).
Some jewelry does more than that. The nonprofit MedicAlert Foundation, for example, has a phone number and code engraved on its jewelry so responders can call to learn more about medications, emergency contacts and other details.
The more complex a person's condition, the more important it is for the jewelry to link to a support system where responders can access additional information, said Dr. Alfred Sacchetti, chief of emergency services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J.
Sacchetti said it's disconcerting how few people with chronic conditions wear medical jewelry — especially children. The less obvious the condition, the more critical it is.
Instead of getting jewelry, some people are getting inked.
Worried that he too often forgot to wear his bracelets or dog tags inscribed with his Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, Michael Carroll this year got a tattoo on his forearm featuring the Star of Life, the American Diabetes Association symbol, his date of diagnosis and "IDDM," which stands for insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.
"I'd rather people know instead of trying to hide it," said Carroll, 19, of Chandler, Ariz., who was diagnosed when he was 5. "It has a lot to do with who I am."
Sacchetti warns that emergency physicians are not trained to look for medical alert tattoos, and they are difficult to change as medical conditions change.