When Kenzi Wheatley Holder was brought to the doctor before her eighth birthday because of persistent flu-like symptoms that included nausea and dizziness, little did she know how her life would change forever – because of diabetes.
Medical experts couldn’t diagnose what was wrong with her then, but several more trips to the hospital and a brush with death in the form of a coma confirmed that she had type 1 diabetes, which is also known as juvenile diabetes.
“Ever since I was diagnosed, my life had a complete overhaul,” says Kenzi, who is now 30-years-old and works as an animal trainer at the Night Safari. “Not only did I have to change my diet, I also had to check my glucose levels regularly at an age when all I wanted was to fit in.”
“Children, at that age, do not want to stand out or get singled out. Given the chance, they would want to eat whatever sweet treats that were thrown their way, be it cakes or chocolates,” she explains.
“All I wanted was to be like everyone else, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t. In fact, the very first question that came across my head when I was first diagnosed was whether I will be able to have cake for my birthday.”
No way to prevent Type 1 diabetes
Unlike type 2 diabetes, which can result from lifestyle choices, type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly destroys the cells that produce insulin. As a result, the body produces little or no insulin, which means glucose can’t be moved from the blood to cells for energy.
As a result, it builds up in the bloodstream, where it can cause life-threatening complications. It’s not known why some children develop type 1 diabetes and there’s no way of preventing it.
5 Surprising Facts About Diabetes
Children and young people with type 1 diabetes usually need to be injected with insulin two or more times a day. This can seem daunting but diabetes educators will help them – or a parent or caregiver if they are unable to do it themselves – to learn how to do it. How much insulin they need can depend on what they have eaten and their activity levels.
It is also very important for anyone with type 1 diabetes to eat regular meals and choose healthy food. There are dietitians available to help with specialist advice. Physical activity is also crucial because it helps to prevent glucose building up in the bloodstream and causing damage to vessels. Keeping cholesterol down, controlling blood pressure and staying a healthy weight is also vital.
Read more about Kenzi’s ordeal (Kenzi is pictured below) as she answers key questions about living with diabetes since she was eight-years-old and how she keeps her condition under control:
How did your diabetes diagnosis change life for you?
Because of my Type 1 diabetes diagnosis I had to have a sense of responsibility at eight-years-old, that quite honestly, I wasn’t ready for. I had to make sure that I took my insulin injections on time, ate promptly, and packed snacks in preparation for a hypoglycemic attack. I had to do all this while also trying to be a normal kid who also loved sports and playing with my friends.
What was it like having to prick your finger multiple times a day?
The finger prick test is the traditional way of testing for blood glucose levels. I have been checking my glucose levels six to seven times a day since my diagnosis. Glucose checks can go up to 15 to 20 times a day, depending on how active I was and what I have eaten for the day. If the results were too low, I would need to have a snack even if I wasn’t hungry. If it were too high, I would have to give myself a dose of insulin.
Are you embarrased by your condition or does it frustrate you?
I used to struggle and contemplate about sharing my condition with others, as I was embarrassed and worried that I would be made be fun of. The thought of being different and people staring resulted in me checking my glucose levels or taking my insulin shots in public restrooms.
Having battled and lived with the condition for 22 years, I’ve learned to ignore the negativity and not give it a second thought. I am thankful that I have supportive friends and family, as well as colleagues and bosses. They fully understand if I need to take a break to have a snack. Sometimes, they would ask questions and I’m happy to share my experience with them.
Has it gotten easier to manage your condition today?
When I was younger, the process of checking my glucose levels was cumbersome and painful. But today, technology has come a long way and has changed the way people living with diabetes manage their condition. With the introduction of a flash glucose monitoring system like the Abbott FreeStyle Libre, I no longer have to prick my fingers for routine glucose monitoring.
The introduction of the FreeStyle LibreLink app also allows me to do away with a reader if I am out and about, and I can easily check my glucose readings with my mobile phone. An accompanying caregiver app, LibreLinkUp, has provided my mother with greater relief. A mother always worries about her child. The availability of the app allows my mum to check in on my condition from the convenience of her phone, without physically contacting me.
A version of this article first appeared in The Singapore Women’s Weekly.
Photos: Kenzi Wheatley Holder, 123RF.com (girl) and Pixabay (finger prick test)