Why I’m Thankful…A Personal Story about Diabetes

The Kiss and Thrill ladies would all like to wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving. May you have good health, love, and an awesome meal!

When I think about what I’m thankful for, I can’t ignore the fact that November is Diabetes Awareness month. Eleven years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with this terrible disease, and for that–I am thankful. Not because she has diabetes of course, but because she’s a survivor. Like most people, I wasn’t aware of the symptoms of diabetes, and because of that, I very nearly lost my daughter.

By sharing this personal story about my daughter’s diagnosis, my hope is that people who think they know about diabetes – but have never personally experienced its impact in their lives – will take a moment to read this. You never know. What you learn might save a life.

Most people are familiar with Type II diabetes, which is typically caused, or at least exacerbated, by an unhealthy lifestyle (over-eating, over-weight). People with Type II can lose weight and exercise, and often (but not always) symptoms of the disease will dramatically improve or disappear altogether.

I’m going to tell you about the other type of diabetes, Type 1, which my daughter Jennifer has. The picture above shows her in the hospital a couple of days after she was diagnosed.

Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, because it usually strikes children. In this disease, the islet cells in your pancreas stop producing insulin. Most people who get this disease are NOT overweight. And losing weight or eating differently won’t make it go away or make it better. Your body doesn’t produce insulin. Period. And if you don’t have insulin every day, you die. Period.

Most people think they know the symptoms of diabetes. Thirsty all the time. Check. Frequent urination. Check. But there are many other symptoms you may not be aware of. I used to be one of those people who didn’t know the other symptoms, and because of that, I almost lost my daughter. Let’s step back in time to when my daughter, Jennifer, was seven.

Jennifer was thin. Always. No matter what she ate, she didn’t gain much weight (Symptom #1). From the time she could hold a sippy cup, she liked to drink a lot. So, for her, drinking a lot (and therefore going to the bathroom a lot) was normal. (Symptom #2)

Jennifer was relatively healthy, just like any other child her age. But shortly after she started school, she would complain about tummy aches. (Symptom #3) She only complained occasionally. It wasn’t chronic. Kids get tummy aches. A lot. So I really didn’t think that was a problem. I gave her medicine for her tummy, and she always felt better the next day.

I took her for a haircut one day. The hair dresser called me over. I thought she was going to ask me something about the hair cut, but instead she showed me several long strands of my daughter’s hair. The hair dresser told me my daughter’s hair came out too easily (Symptom #4). I have to tell you, I blew that off. I thought that lady was being silly.

A few weeks later, my daughter wasn’t acting like herself. She sat around a lot instead of playing. Her cheeks were also bright red. My husband took her to the pediatrician. I asked my husband to be sure to let the doctor know that the hair dresser said my daughter’s hair was falling out too easily. Because by this time I was thinking the same thing, but I didn’t have a clue what that could mean. Our pediatrician ignored the hair symptom, much like I initially had. And he diagnosed my daughter with Fifth’s Disease, which basically means a red rash and that she is tired a lot and doesn’t feel well. The cure was to give her time to get better. (Being diagnosed with an illness OTHER than diabetes is Symptom #5).

The following weekend, my daughter woke up in the middle of the night. She said her tummy hurt. And she was breathing very fast. (Symptom #6) She threw up and then seemed to feel better. No fever. So I put her to bed with me and she went to sleep.

The next morning she was feeling better, but not great. Her tummy didn’t hurt anymore, and she wasn’t throwing up, but she sat around not doing much. And when I looked at her, I could tell there was something wrong, but wasn’t sure what. I can only describe it as saying she didn’t look like Jennifer. Something about her face was ‘off’ but I couldn’t figure out what it was. (Symptom #7 – sunken-in eyes)

That was in September, on a holiday weekend. I was definitely planning to take her back to her doctor after the holiday. But I was so worried about her, that I went ahead and took her to the emergency room. Honestly, I felt silly doing it. She had no fever. Her doctor had already diagnosed her a few days earlier with Fifth’s Disease, which could theoretically explain her not feeling well. But my gut told me to go, so I went.

On the way to the hospital. She complained about being thirsty and I bought her a Gator-ade to drink. She drank a LARGE bottle on the way to the E.R. – all of it. It did nothing to quench her thirst. Her tongue was dry like sandpaper (Symptom #8).

When the nurse triaged my daughter, I told the nurse my daughter didn’t feel well, had just been diagnosed with Fifth’s, and that she drank a bottle of Gator-ade on the way to the hospital and her tongue was dry. I also mentioned her face just didn’t look right to me but I didn’t know why. I hadn’t even finished telling her all of that when the nurse reached for a glucose monitor and checked my daughter’s blood sugar level. That nurse knew with just one look that my daughter was severely dehydrated – which explains the thirst and the sunken-in eyes that made her look ‘off’.

Her sugar level was too high to register on the meter.

My daughter was immediately taken to the Intensive Care Unit. Her blood was drawn and sent to the hospital lab to get an accurate blood sugar level reading, and she was put on an insulin drip. A normal sugar level is around 100. If your sugar gets around 250 or higher, it’s considered really bad and dangerous. My daughter’s sugar was over 1000. Her doctor later told me he had never heard of anyone having sugar that high who survived.

My daughter spent four days in the ICU. I almost lost her. The doctor later told me that when sugar levels get that high, people typically have seizures and die. He also told me that if I had waited until after the weekend, my daughter would have died. He estimated she was literally within an hour or two of seizing and dying.

Think about that for a minute.

How many of you would have taken your child to the emergency room when they had no fever and just seemed ‘off’ and just weren’t very active? Especially since the pediatrician had diagnosed her with a condition just a few days earlier that explained her symptoms? I don’t know for sure why I went to the E.R. that day. My gut just told me something was wrong, so I went. And I thank God that I did.

I’m not saying to assume diabetes every time your child has a tummy ache. I’m saying to trust your gut and be your child’s advocate.

MOST Type 1 diabetics are diagnosed with a different illness shortly before being diagnosed with diabetes. Why? Because Type 1 is an auto-immune disease. Every time a person with Type 1 gets sick — whether it’s a cold or something else — their body attacks the Islet cells in their pancreas, killing more of them. One day, one of those “attacks” kills enough cells so that the diabetic goes into ketoacidosis, which is what happened to my daughter. Her blood was literally turning to acid and killing her.

So what about all of those symptoms I mentioned? Here’s a quick run-down of each symptom, and what it really meant, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

  • Can’t gain weight – Your body needs insulin in order to absorb nutrition, so without insulin your body eats all the fat to survive.
  • Thirsty – If your sugar is too high your blood is getting acidic, so your body’s natural reaction is to crave water to dilute the acid.
  • Frequent urination – Drink more, pee more (smile)
  • Hair Falling out – Malnutrition! The body can’t absorb nutrients.
  • Sunken-in Eyes – Dehydration because the body can’t absorb water anymore (acidic blood).
  • Tummy ache – Malnutrition
  • Throwing up – Potassium and electrolytes in the blood are all ‘off’ which throws the entire body out of whack and makes you sick
  • Rapid Breathing – Respiratory distress. This is one of the last systems, along with throwing up. It happens right before the body shuts down. Next symptom – seizure and death.

Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. I’m happy to report that my daughter recovered and is now living a rich fulfilling life in spite of the incredible challenges of living with this horrible disease. (The picture above is a current picture of Jennifer.)

Hopefully by sharing my daughter’s story, I have educated some people about symptoms you may have otherwise overlooked. And if that saves a life, well then, that’s a wonderful thing.

I, and all the ladies at Kiss and Thrill, hope you and your loved ones have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. We’d love to hear what you’re thankful for this year, and what special things you’re doing to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Posted on November 20, 2012, in about us, Lena Diaz and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. Oh my gosh, Lena, I read thru that post with growing horror and chanting OMG, OMG. Thank God a nurse diagnosed her in the nick of time!

    Thank you for sharing your personal story with us. I did learn a lot more.

    Happy (and healthy)Thanksgiving everyone!

  2. Lena! Thank you so much for sharing this story! I was unaware of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, and I plan to forward this blog to lots of parents that I know.

    Thank you for sharing the picture of your beautiful daughter. After reading this it’s wonderful to see her healthy and perfect. And oh my, she looks just like you!!!

    Huge hugs and happy Thanksgiving!!!!

  3. What a lovely post and your daughter is beautiful. We went through a similar experience here…twice. My daughter was a junior in high school when she was diagnosed. But, because she also has cerebral palsy, her being very thin didn’t stand out. She didn’t have a lot of the syptoms except a stomach ache. When I took her to the doctor, the first thing the nurse did was check her blood…we didn’t even tell her what Manda’s symptoms were. Anyway, her blood sugar was in the upper 500’s and she had to spend the weekend in the hospital where they educated her on Type 1. She’s doing wonderful on the insulin pump and has even put on weight…she’s 5’7 and weighed 93 pounds when she was diagnosed.
    This past summer, two days before I was to leave for Nationals, I was diagnosed Type two. My sugars were too high to register on the meter at the ER. You’d think I’d know the symptoms after going through it with my daughter…but, I’ve never much paid attention to my own health, just the kid’s. So I spent a day in the hospital and was put on meds and a diet. *sigh*
    Have a terrific Thanksgiving Everyone!

  4. Wow, Lena. That’s an amazing story. I don’t have to wonder what you’re thankful for every day and not just on Thanksgiving. You’re daughter is beautiful. I’m so glad this story had a happy ending. It was gut-wrenching enough even with the HEA.
    I think the most important thing for me to take away is the listen- to-your-gut-part. I’ll for sure share this with others. Happy Thanksgiving to you and others at K & T

  5. Lena,

    Your story moved me to tears. It’s amazing how simply trusting your “Mother’s Instinct” saved your daughter’s life.

    And wow, does she look like you!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Hi Mary. Nice to see you here today! And thanks for the compliment. I don’t know why everyone thinks my daughter looks like me – I don’t see it – but I do think she’s beautiful, inside and out! Happy Thanksgiving.

  6. Oh, Lena. My heart goes out to you as a mom. Thanks so much for sharing your story and your beautiful daughter with us. And Terri, thank you for sharing too!

    Lena, as a physician, I can say you’ve done a great job with your description of the symptoms of Diabetes, and I can tell you that the number one thing for all of us to remember is that if something looks really wrong- even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what the problem is- trust your gut.

    In our office we have a standard question tacked on to end of every medical advice phone conversation wether it be with a nurse or a physician:

    “Does your child appear to be much sicker than usual? If the answer to that is yes, come in right away, or go to the ER if it’s after hours.”

    I’ll bet your daughter is thankful for her wonderful mom!

    • Hi Carey. I’m not surprised you would insist on asking that type of question of your patients. You’re a smart lady! And sometimes it really does take that kind of question to make someone stop and think. I count my blessings that my daughter is here today. And I pray we’ll find a cure for this horrible disease soon.

  7. Lena. It is always hard to balance being too careful ,and careful enough. I am glad you were able to get help in time. I really didn’t know the symptom’s of Type 1, and I am sure that other people do not know them as well, this is very valuable information.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Gayle, thanks so much for stopping by. I’m so glad you learned about the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes and I really hope you never have to use that knowledge! Happy Thanksgiving.

  8. OMG, Lena, her guardian angel and yours were working together that day. This is why I believe in fate. By all things physical, she should have died but is still here and beautiful btw. I know from experience that medicine is not 100% but it is getting closer. I was diagnosed diabetic some years ago (type II) but have since been told from my symptom history that I began as hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) probably as early as my teens. Unlike most people, I can forget to eat because my body doesn’t signal me with hunger. Consequently, when I did eat, my blood sugar would spike and use a lot of insulin and my liver began storing excess glucose which it would dump into my blood uncontrolled. When I started gaining weight on a daily caloric intake of less than 1000 calories, I asked the doctor why – answer: your body thinks it’s starving. That didn’t make sense to me and we’ve always been told – eat more, gain weight, eat less, lose weight. So I ate less, exercised more and continued to gain weight – around the middle, of course, typical for diabetics. I never put together feeling tired after I did eat or a headache that would go away after I ate as being connected. It wasn’t until I had a routine exam and my blood sugar was 275 that any doctor addressed the possibility. My fasting blood sugar had always been in the low 90’s before. My sugars are stable now, my A1C is better than normal at 5.7 but I must eat every 3 to 4 hours or I risk passing out or worse. Food has become medicine and I still forget to eat if I don’t check the clock. My message to all – don’t ignore your body, if something feels ‘off’ tell the doctor. It never hurts anyone to ask.
    Lena, I’m hoping that in your daughter’s lifetime they discover a real cure for diabetes. I still don’t understand why they can’t replace the pancreas but I suppose they have their reasons. God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Amy, wow, what an amazing story. You must have been so frustrated. I’m glad you have it figured out now and are feeling better. Really scary. Thanks so much for the compliments about my daughter – I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to hear so many people saying she’s beautiful, LOL. As for a cure, a transplant of either Islet cells into the liver or an entire pacreatic transplant can actually ‘cure’ diabetes. But both require anti-rejection regimens which aren’t safe for children and have horrible side-effects. Cancer is one of the possible side-effects of lowering your immune system with the anti-rejection drugs. So, studies continue to try to find a treatment that doesn’t have all the dangerous side-effects. My daughter uses an insulin pump, which has greatly improved her quality of life. Before she went on the pump, she had to take up to 10 shots a day sometimes. I’m so grateful for insulin pumps!

  9. May 8, 2006 my son, who also has aspergers, was at the state capital on a field trip and collapsed. After rushing up to get him and bring him home I realized something was wrong. He looked like a skeleton and couldnt stop throwing up. After rushing him to the ER I was told he had Type 1 diabetes. They then proceeded to ask me – Has he had sweet breath, does he drink a lot, has his urine been different (his urine was like glue stuck to the toilet) did you notice weight loss, etc. They answer to them all once I thought about it was yes. Once I realized how bad a shape he was in I went through the extreme guilt of a mother who didnt know there was something wrong with their child. I had an mental breakdown on the spot but after 10 mins I remember looking up to God and going ok – bring it on. Pulled up my big girl panties and said what do we need to do. I cannot tell you how overwhelming that week was in the hospital going through the diabetes education. With his aspergers managing his diabetes has been a challenge. If I dont keep on top of him 24/7 about it – he wouldnt test or remember to take his insulin. I am not always able to stay on top of him and this had landed him in the hospital many times. He will be 19 next week and his A1C stays at 9.4. I am fearful for the day I am not around. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Cindy my heart really goes out to you. What an incredibly challenging situation you’re in. It sounds to me like you are doing an awesome job of trying to help your son. Although I know it’s difficult, I hope you can try to let go of some of that guilt. You’re only human, and as you know as a mom of a diabetic, even on days when you do everything right, exactly by the book, those crazy highs and lows can happen. Sending lots of hugs your way. Just know you aren’t alone–and none of this is your fault! Take care.

  10. Lena- what a story! I am so glad your daughter is doing so well. My husband was also diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in the emergency room. He was recovering from surgery and just not getting better, then seemed to come down with a flu. That’s what the doctor told us 2 days before AND the morning of the diagnosis- the flu was really bad that year. That afternoon, when my husband started acting almost belligerent, and looked so pale and shrunken, I took him to the emergency room despite the $400 copay I was trying to avoid. On our way there he was complaining of a super bright light. (I asked and asked doctors about this- not medically induced). Within an hour at the ER he was in a diabetic coma and rushed to the ICU. It was touch and go. He had a whole ‘going to the light’ experience. You can imagine my panic. I talked to him about random stuff and told him he couldn’t leave yet. Then I felt a small squeeze on my hand- he had come back to us.

    He doesn’t fit the profile for Type 1 diabetes- Diagnosed in his 30’s, no family history. BUT they are now finding people who have had traumatic injury to their limbs- Iraq vets, car accident victims- who develop the auto immune disease.

    I very nearly lost my husband. The ICU doctor was close to putting him on a ventilator and life support. The ER doctor remembered us a year later and said he’d called in after his shift to find out if my husband had survived the night. My heart drops remembering it all.

    My lesson- listen to my gut! I wanted to go to the ER the day before I did, but thought ‘No, the Dr said it was the flu. Don’t waste your money’. I KNEW something was wrong, had known for a month. I just thought it was due to his surgery…

  11. Elizabeth Perkins was just on THE CHEW talking about her own diabetes diagnosis. She’s no youngster and she was diagnosed at age 44 with Type 1. It used to be believed that Type 1 was a children’s disease, hence the term juvenile diabetes. Lesson: it can happen to anyone – anyone. Listen to your body. Be well. : )

    • Hi Amy. You’re absolutely right. Type 2 now strikes kids and Type 1 strikes adults, as well as the other way around. I really wish they’d figure out what’s causing all of this!!

  12. Hi Lena,

    I also have Type 1 diabetes but mine wasn’t diagnosed until I was 21. As a precautionary note to your followers I wanted to let them know how difficult this can be to dignose on your own.

    My older sister was also not diagnosed until she was in her 20’s. My dianoses was made only after I couldn’t get pregnant and my gynocologist sent me to an endocrinologist for my yearly blood word. Imagine my surprise when I found out after having gone yearly to be tested that this time it not only came back positive but that I was nearing a critical level! I knew all the symptoms but didn’t have any of them.

    Please, any of you that are reading this, if anyone in your family has ever been diagnosed as bing diabetic whether they are Type 1 or Type 2 to make sure your docter does this life saving test yearly! If you don’t ask it may not be done. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear because f you do it may be too late.

    Two years ago I was finally able to buy an insulin pump and life couldn’t be better. Now if my blood sugar is rising or fallng I have an alarm that goes off and I can immediately correct. At 65 life couldn’t be better. This year my husband and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary and I can’t wait to celebrate many more!

    • Jeanne, thanks for sharing. I never would have thought it was diabetes either. Amazing. Congratulations on being married 42 years! That’s an awesome achievement. May you have many more happy years together!

  13. I got chills reading your story, Lena. I am so sorry you had to go through all of that and I’m sure you still have nightmares. I’m just grateful you trusted your mother’s instincts and brought her in to the ER. What a beautiful picture of a lovely girl. I hope she knows how lucky she is to have you as a mother. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  14. Your story brought me to tears. So glad your daughter is safe and healthy now. I feel so THANKFUL to have one of those pediatricians who listens to everything I say and checks into everything I ask about. I took my daughter in with minor leg pain when she was twelve. We spent the entire day going from the x-ray department, to physical therapy, back to x-rays, then to an Orthopedic Specialist. The Pediatrician would not let us go home until he knew for sure what the problem was. She had hip surgery the next day due to a slipped growth plate. Who knew…I sure didn’t. I thought it was growing pains.

    • Dana, how wonderful that you had such a special, caring doctor who pushed until the true problem was found. I hope your daughter is okay…sounds like this happened some time ago? Hope all is well now. Take care and have a wonderful holiday.

  15. Oh, Lena, what a nightmare for a parent. I’m so glad you trusted your instincts; I’ve always heard that’s more important than anything else, because you may not be able to articulate what’s wrong, but your subconscious registered it.

    Thanks to you–and so many of our commenters–for sharing your story. I’m glad it had a happy ending. That’s definitely something to be thankful for. Have a great holiday!

  16. Lena, I’m glad your daughter is doing so well. Happy Thanksgiving!

  17. Had to come read this story. Thanks for sharing, Lena! My 15 year old nephew was diagnosed with Type I diabetes last month. He spent two days in the ICU and is doing well now, but like your story, his symptoms went unrecognized for a long time. Hugs to you and your daughter!!

    • Darcy, I’m so glad your nephew is okay now. Hugs and well-wishes to him and his family. The first year after diagnosis is so difficult. But it does get better! Have a safe and happy holiday.

  18. Lena, wow. Thank God your daughter is better now. She is so beautiful, just like her mom. Being from a family where this disease is common, I understand all of your fright and the need to get people to understand more about the disease.

    One thing I’d like to add, is for people who know a type 1 diabetic. If someone with this disease starts acting very silly, as if they were drunk, their insulin might be off and it can be life threatening. Ask them to be serious, if they cannot, and are slurring their words and stumbling around, they may need juice or a piece of candy. Yes, candy can save a diabetic’s life.

    So, if you know someone with this disease, ask them about it. Find out if they carry glucose with them, or anything else. A few questions won’t be being nosey when it can save a life.

    Great post Lena. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

    • Thanks Diana. Excellent advice! I think what confuses people is that diabetes, if untreated, makes your sugar too high. But after diagnosis, when a diabetic is on a regular treatment plan including constant doses of insulin, after that the usual common danger is blood sugar levels going too low. And that’s when the slurred speech, dizziness, eyes crossing, pale skin, confusion, headache, nausea…all can occur. As you said, when that happens, it’s imperative to get easily soluble sugar into them – like regular soda, juice, or a very sugary quickly dissolved candy. Starburst is excellent, but only if the diabetic can chew and swallow. If the diabetic can’t swallow, try rubbing some honey on their tongue and on the roof of their mouth. It dissolves right into the blood stream and will raise blood sugar levels. Happy Thanksgiving Diana. Take care.

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  20. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this,
    like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that,
    this is great blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

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