Friday, July 12, 2013

my diabetes real life community: meet leah

i'm introducing my friends who i know in 'real life' that have diabetes. 

today, you get to meet leah. we met through social media and in person through events with our local jdrf chapter, where she works!

leah with her boyfriend

leah lives in louisville, ky is the development coordinator at the jdrf kentucky chapter. she has a boyfriend named dustin and they have a dog named sadie. she’s a beagle/collie mix.

what type of diabetes do you have?
I have type 1 diabetes (T1D).

how long have you had it/when were you diagnosed?
I have had T1D for almost 16 years. I was diagnosed when I was 9; a week before my 10th birthday.

can you tell us a quick summary of your diagnosis story?
I was very sick and even though I was so young, the other kids in my class could even see how sick I was. I lost a lot of weight and would vomit after eating often. I would sneak out of bed to get water in the middle of the night. Before I was diagnosed I had a lot of stomach issues and I believe my parents ignored the symptoms of T1D longer because of my stomach issues before the diagnosis.

I was admitted to the hospital on November 24, 1997 – just a few days before Thanksgiving and a week before my birthday. I stayed overnight and we were released fairly quickly.

how do you treat it (shots, pump, pen, etc)? do you use any other technologies (CGM, etc)? 
I use a Medtronic Insulin Pump, no CGM.

what are some of your daily concerns, worries or considerations?
Daily concerns are food and exercise. With a pump, they can make you gain weight which minimizes your insulin tolerance. So eating a good diet and getting enough exercise are big for me, especially because I’m on the road a lot, traveling around the state for outreach events.

what do you wish people without diabetes understood?
I try not to take people’s ignorance to the disease to heart. Most people don’t research a disease unless they are personally affected. Unfortunately I have been a victim of discrimination because of the disease many times, mostly within the school system as a kid (that’s an entire story in itself) more so than now. I think what I wish people understood most about the disease is that it’s harder than it looks. It’s not just changing your diet; it’s an entire lifestyle change. People see and hear stories about us dying and going blind but we can control it, we just need to be patient. They don’t understand that we become our own doctors, nurses, pharmacists, mathematicians, dietitians and therapists once we are diagnosed. The mental toll of the disease can be just as hard as the physical. 

Education is a big part of understanding the disease and that’s why I enjoy outreach so much. Like explaining to a person without diabetes how we are constantly trying to control our blood sugar levels when they need to be in a range of 70-120 mg/dl. Of course they don’t understand that, so then you put it in terms they can. Essentially an ideal blood sugar number is 100 mg/dl. You can explain that that is equivalent to ONE packet of sugar that you would put in your coffee. That’s it as far as how much sugar should be in your body. Once you explain this, and all that we have to do to maintain that, they’re (people without T1D) minds are blown.

how do you describe the feeling and symptoms of lows and to people who don't have diabetes?
I explain a low blood sugar feeling like you haven’t eaten all day. You are weak and disoriented. I tend to feel very hot and I tend to tear up/cry when my blood sugar is dropping. I also crave peanut butter.
what about the feeling and symptoms of highs?A high blood sugar feels like you are extremely hungover from a night of binge drinking. You are thirsty, you have a headache; I get the chills a lot too.

what's your go-to treatment for lows?
I’m still stuck on my old ways of treatment from 16 years ago, so I use Orange Juice and peanut butter crackers. It’s really funny because I’ve been treating the same way for so long, I can tell that my blood sugar is dropping because I crave peanut butter.

what's your meal plan? do you follow a special diet? do you enjoy the same treats that 'everyone else' does?
The interesting thing about diabetes is that we look at food the way EVERYONE should view food. We are constantly aware of what we put in our body and we learn to recognize how it affects us. Everyone is different, for some pizza is a huge issue while for others it isn’t. A lot of diabetics don’t like to use artificial sweeteners because it spikes their blood sugars, while other diabetics are affected by artificial sweeteners. Everyone is different, and we learn to read our bodies pretty quickly.

Personally, I try to only eat between 40-50 carbohydrates at every meal. I do not count calories. I am also very aware of my sodium intake as well.

Diabetics have a lot of heart problems as a complication of the disease so watching fat and sodium can help with this. I’ve read a few studies on the actual affects of insulin as well, which swells our arteries and veins, thus contributing to our heart complications. So food and exercise are things we can control to prevent problems.

Leah holding the Artificial Pancreas at a conference in Nashville.
"Tom Brobson passed it around and every diabetic in the room started to tear up,
even myself. One of the coolest moments ever."
what diabetes myth do you wish would get busted?
All of them. We CAN eat sweets. We CAN do anything a non-diabetic can do (except THREE JOBS – we cannot serve in the armed forces, we cannot be commercial pilots and we cannot be interstate truck drivers). I believe 2-3 people who have climbed Mount Everest have been diabetics. You CANNOT catch diabetes; it’s not contagious. We DO need help from time to time.

what would you tell someone who was just diagnosed with diabetes? 
Welcome to the family. We are all here to support one another and you will need a shoulder to cry on, someone to scream with and someone to know that you are doing your best. This disease is hard but we are here together.

what's your favorite flavor cupcake?
 I am actually not a big cake/cupcake fan. I am a lover of lemon meringue pie though.

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