Type 1 diabetes: A life-changing diagnosis

Type 1 diabetes: A life-changing diagnosis for FOX 8's Nicondra Norwood
Published: Feb. 23, 2018 at 9:20 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2018 at 4:40 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - In summer 2015 as I awaited the birth of my son, a routine test led me to a life-changing diagnosis. I was ready for the gestational diabetes screening, but not the outcome. I didn't know what blood sugar numbers meant and what was good and what was bad. I just saw the gestational diabetes needs to be scheduled for education and treatment. It usually goes away right after birth.

With two months to go, I went on the diet, learned how to check my blood sugar and then rightly worried, though I was eating perfectly, my numbers were still high. Doctors said no worries, but you are going to have to do some management. A lot of people have this. It will go away.

"I thought you did a really good job from the pregnancy part because that was scary," said my husband, LeVar Lewis.  "You are like, carrying life, and it's like, 'Oh boy. How is this going to go?'"

It went great. While pregnant the scheduled eating, special diet and giving myself shots was easy. Whatever I needed to do to have a healthy baby. There was an end game or - so I thought.

A day after my son Gage was born, my blood sugar read normal but that didn't last. I got a call after a follow-up test. They said, "Hey, unfortunately, 2% of people retain type 2 diabetes, and it looks like you are one of them."

"Type 2 diabetes is 90% to 95% of all the patients we see," said Certified Diabetes Educator Lori Lemoine. "They make their own insulin, but they are resistant to the insulin that they are making. They can be treated with pills, insulin, we have multiple options."

Even on the strict diet, my blood sugars soared. I could have opted for a pill - who wouldn't want a pill over injections - but I had just had Gage and my thought was that I did want to have a second baby and I had learned enough during my gestational diabetes to understand that insulin was the preferred treatment during pregnancy and that whatever medication you took for diabetes, you were going to have to have an adjustment period to figure out what worked for you.

My doctor agreed, and I started insulin once again. That turned into a few roller coaster days with terrible low crashes. Most people have experienced low blood sugar at some point. You feel shaky, it's hard to think clearly because your brain is not getting enough fuel. Diabetics on medication can go into a coma or even die if glucose is too low.

My general practitioner decided that I should see an endocrinologist.

"What was interesting about you is that you didn't have any of the other characteristics of type 2 diabetes. Generally, when you talk about type 2 diabetes which is the most common you see other things. You see obesity, you see high blood pressure, you see high triglycerides, you see low good cholesterol and you didn't have any of that and that at first took me back. I said ok we need to make sure that we are not missing anything," said Dr. Brandy Panunti, an endocrinologist with Ochsner Health Systems.

I also didn't fit the profile of type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in children or young adults.

"In your case, it was just unusual, not unheard of, but again it's important we found it," Panunti said. "Type 1 diabetes is about 5% of the total diabetes population. It is an autoimmune disease where your body destroys your pancreas and your pancreas is responsible for making insulin, and without insulin you have high blood sugar and that's where you get into trouble."

I had people writing to me here at WVUE: How are you losing your baby weight so fast? All I could say was I don't know. My family and friends were concerned.

"If you care about somebody, that's what you do. You're supposed to worry," LeVar said

I was rapidly losing weight and finally we knew why.

One hundred years ago, I would have died. Literally that is what would have happened.

"That's true. That is 100% true," said Panunti. "The story is a fantastic one because it was a death sentence, and now you are expected to live and live a full wonderful life with diabetes."

We all think we know about diabetes. You think it's something that you understand and that you've learned about. Once you have to deal with it, that's when you really figure out that everything you thought you knew you really didn't know at all.

I've been asked more than once: "Don't you get tired of doing that?" And my answer is: "I do it or I die."

About a year ago I moved from shots to an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor. Having the pump gives you more freedom in that you don't have that long-acting insulin that's always working, so I don't get as many lows. When you are on that, you've got to eat on time. When we're running a long day in the weather center and I don't have time for lunch, there is no such thing as you don't have time for lunch. As a person who works in a high-intensity environment, as a person with a small child, I know sometimes breakfast is not always going to be at 7 a.m. and lunch is not always going to be at 11.

Despite all the terrible consequences like heart disease, blindness and kidney failure that come with poor management, diabetes is an illness you control.

"It only works as well as the patient. No one is perfect all the time." Panunti said, "I tell my patients all the time diabetes is a marathon, it is not a sprint."

I have some help.

"I do a lot of the cooking in the house," LeVar said. "I feel like a drill sergeant sometimes because I'm calling you to make sure that you eat. Hey, are you okay."

I'm already an older mother, so that was something I was thinking about already, and also the idea that I've got to take care of myself because I have to be around to see my big boy graduate from high school and college. I want to be there when he gets married, and I want to have grandkids. And that means I need to live a long time.

"You don't know I wake up and see if you are breathing at night," LeVar said. "At the end of the day, it's all about you, me and him. Right now, in the forecast I don't see it being me and Gage."

I've got to keep my regimen up and be diligent with it as I am two years in; at 22 years and 25 and hopefully 30; maybe by then we will have even better technology.

As dangerous as diabetes can be, it also offers a sense of control that other diseases don't necessarily give their sufferers. Whatever you may be dealing with, your actions could be key to the best outcome.

If you have symptoms like unusual weight loss, unexplained thirst and hunger, excessive fatigue or a family history of diabetes. You can get more information through Ochsner health online or calling 504-777-2908.

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