SAN DIEGO– “I look at the calluses forming on my fingers from the pricks and it makes me so upset. Every doctor’s visit, I get reminded of the shorter life expectancy, which really sucks,” said 21-year-old Lindsay Altman.
She sat tense with her hands clasped tightly between her knees. A strand of her long, brown hair fell over her eyes when she looked down and chuckled. She apologized for sounding so depressing. Although she swore she was fine and said not to worry, the tearing in her eyes and tightening of her throat told a different story. Lindsay’s family has an inherently strong history with type 1 diabetes and although her parents did everything they could to prevent it, she was diagnosed with the disease at 17 years old.
At the age of four, Lindsay started getting blood drawn annually to test for antibodies—or self-destructing proteins. By the age of six, the doctors said she had the antibodies that would develop the disease. They said there was an 85% chance that within the next five years she would be diagnosed. Lindsay’s mom flew her to doctors and researchers, made her take specific medications and fish oils, but it was only a matter of time for—what she called—her little “time bomb.” Her mother was able to shock researchers by delaying her diagnosis for 11 years, but eventually it was time to face what was inevitable.
MULTIMEDIA: Lindsay describes the struggle of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and how it has affected her life socially. Professionals also explain the effects the disease has on one’s body now and in the future.
“Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means the body attacks its own tissue—or in this case—the pancreas,” explains to Yumi Petrisko, Professor of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University. She says that because the beta cells of the pancreas are destroyed, the body cannot produce insulin, which is necessary for regulating the blood glucose. The consistency of the blood glucose levels is crucial especially for people with diabetes because extreme fluctuations can cause severe complications.
On any given day, Altman says she has to prick her fingers anywhere from five to 10 times to check her blood sugar, which helps avoid the high’s and low’s. In addition, she has to inject herself with insulin about one to five times a day. However, she says there is no way to maintain a perfect insulin level so there is no avoiding the discomforts of her disease.
“High blood sugars leave me anxious, jittery and with a sort of a caffeine crash, where I am just so tired. Low blood sugars leave me weak, shaky, dizzy and sweaty,” Altman said.
These are only the current conditions that Altman has to face. Mark Kern, Professor of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University, says it can lead complications like problems with vision, kidneys—so people often end up on dialysis if they have type I diabetes that they don’t keep under control. He says they can also have problems with wound healing, so they can end up with infections.
“It’s not uncommon for people with diabetes to end up needing amputations of toes or feet or legs,” Kern said.
Altman said her grandfather, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 75 years ago, is completely blind from diabetic retinopathy and has nerve damage in his legs.
“I know that there is better technology available for me now, but to see what it may or may not do to my body is a lot to handle at times,” Altman said.
According to the American Diabetes Association one in four people has diabetes and does not even know it. It is estimated that one out of three children born after the year 2000 will be directly affected by diabetes in the greater area of San Diego alone.
Altman said that although her diagnosis has made her appreciate the importance of health and her supporting family, having this disease is a burden and is more than just physically difficult. She choked up when she described the stigma the disease has because it is misconstrued for type 2.
Altman said growing up was difficult, especially in her younger and awkward years, as a girl who is unsure of herself and her body image. Altman teared up when she said that it was really hurtful to see her own friends post pictures of them eating candy and pizza with the caption saying “fatty” and hashtag diabetic.
“It’s not like telling somebody I’m diabetic makes me feel attractive,” Altman said. “It makes me feel self conscious and makes me feel awkward.”
She later told a story about a time in the library when she had to inject insulin to avoid a blood glucose fluctuation and a nearby student looked over and gasped. Altman said it made her feel so insecure. She said she resents those experiences.
However, not only those who are diagnosed are the ones affected by the disease. Her father, Steve Altman, said that as a parent all he can do is worry. Lindsay’s mother, Lisa Altman, also described how overwhelming it was to have both their son and daughter diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“When they’re newly diagnosed it’s a learning curve because you know nothing about it,” Lisa said.
Lisa said it’s hard to learn to give shots and know all about the disease. However, she has committed her life to dealing with the disease for her family. Lisa sits on the board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and hosts the Rock the Cure event at her house every year. She researches, helps newly diagnosed people and their families and does what she can to make a difference.
“I’ve worn my diabetes bracelet since her brother was diagnosed,” Lisa said. “Whether I’m going to a black tie event or working out. It’s the first thing I put on and the last thing I take off at night because it’s my life and what matters to me.”
Lindsay said she is grateful for the support her family gives her because they understand how serious her disease is and what it really means to have to live with diabetes.