Running Through Type 1 Diabetes

This is a story by Kathleen Warren, a Raleigh-base business professional, wife, and mother of two healthy children. She was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as a teenager. This is her story, in her words. Something to think about as you run in our races.

Words: Kathleen Warren

I was diagnosed at age 11, a month before my 12th birthday.  I had been home from school for a couple weeks with a sickness that was diagnosed as “mono.”  Come to find out, I didn’t have mono.  My pancreas had quit working unbeknownst to me and my parents.  I was tired, nauseous and was wetting the bed at an age that was not appropriate.  I continued to get sicker and sicker, due to my rising blood sugars, and eventually went into a diabetic coma with a blood sugar of 1,200.  A normal blood sugar is 80-130.  I was rushed to the hospital and placed in the intensive care unit.  The doctors diagnosed me with type I diabetes and began to teach me a whole new way of living. 

Being diagnosed with a disease when you are in middle school is not the ideal time.  Middle school is already an awkward period in everyone’s life, but I also had a new disease to deal with and that was embarrassing to me.  Once I figured out how to give myself insulin injections and count carbohydrates, I tried to continue on with my pre-diabetes life.  I was a three-sport athlete in middle school and high school, but soccer was the sport I turned out to be the best at.  I played varsity soccer for four years at Broughton High school where we won four state championships.  I received a scholarship to play at Wake Forest University and was able to get through pre-season training and a grueling athletic and academic schedule while attempting to keep my blood sugars in line.  Notice that I did not say “I successfully kept my sugars in the target range.”  Type I diabetes is a very hard disease to manage and my sugars were not the most controlled during my freshman year.  Thanks to my doctor’s encouragement, I went on the insulin pump during my sophomore year in college and that made controlling my diabetes a lot easier, which allowed me to study abroad for a semester and feel a bit more independent while managing my disease. 

I have lived with type I diabetes for 23 years now and have been able to achieve some pretty neat things, but the most amazing thing that I have been able to do as a diabetic is having our little girl last January.  Cam is now 3 years old and we also have a new baby Sims and both are healthy and active.  When I found out I was pregnant I did a lot of research on diabetes and pregnancy.  The internet can be a scary place when you are searching anything medical related, so I quickly turned to the JDRF office for some materials and resources.  They mailed a Pregnancy in Diabetics resource book to me that was filled with common issues diabetics face during pregnancy such as an increased risk of low blood sugars.  By my second trimester with Cam I learned that I couldn’t leave the house without carrying glucose tabs in my pocket and I was constantly pricking my fingers to test my blood sugar, sometimes 25 times a day.  I had a few scary lows and that was one too many for me.  I was a bit compulsive about my sugars once I learned that my blood sugar was also the blood sugar of my baby.  If my sugars spiked above 300, it was no longer just me that was affecting, but those terrible long-term effects that high blood sugars can cause were also threatening my baby’s life.  There was no way I was going to let type I diabetes affect the vital organ development of my child. 

Even though I had a high-risk pregnancy, I was able to deliver a healthy little girl.  This is truly remarkable and thanks to the incredible technology, most of which was funded in part by JDRF, I was able to wear an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor to help me regulate my blood sugars throughout my pregnancy.  When my little girl was born, the first thing I asked the doctor was “What is her blood sugar?!”   I had heard so many stories of babies coming out of diabetic mothers with extremely low blood sugars that put the baby at risk.  Luckily my daughter’s blood sugar was 89, which is normal, and she avoided a stint in the NICU thanks to the wonderful doctors I had.  I was also lucky enough to have a type I diabetic nurse during my labor.  She helped keep my sugars stable during labor and was quick to give me a shot of apple juice when she saw my sugars dropping. 

I don’t think I realized just how much devotion, patience, and support that my parents provided me since my diagnoses.  Having my girls made me realize the heavy weight of responsibility that we bear as parents.  I can’t imagine having to worry about my child’s changing blood sugars as well!  The neat thing about my parents is that I never got the vibe that they were worried about me living with type I diabetes.  To me, they acted as if this was just a small challenge that I could learn how to deal with and then carry on with my life.  They never suggested I drop out of sports, or not attend summer camps, even though I’m sure they were always concerned about my sugars.  The fact is, my Mom and Dad, allowed me to take responsibility for my disease and that was empowering. 

I look forward to a day when I won’t have to worry about a low blood sugar while driving my daughter home from school.  My brain will be at peace when I am not constantly consumed with counting carbohydrates and determining how much insulin to pump for that margarita I’d like to have.  My husband will be glad I don’t set off our house alarm due to a low blood sugar that caused me to forget our security code when I entered our house one night.  Without a lot of sugar in your bloodstream, your brain can’t function normally and this can often result in memory loss, sweating, seizures, and if left untreated can result in death.  I would love to live in a world where I don’t have to worry about changing blood sugars and how they will affect my health or the safety of my family. 

For those of us that are diabetic, there is always the worry that our own children will be diagnosed one day.  Even with all the challenges that type I diabetes throws our way, the good news is the incredible work JDRF does every day to further the research in finding a cure.  JDRF has been with me since the day I was diagnosed, 23 years ago, and I know they will continue to be with me each step of the way!


Running with JDRF to Fight Diabetes