It was summer time, 1990. I was 9 years old and trying, like every other kid, just to be normal and fit in. I was playing in a neighborhood baseball league and attending Banner day camp near Chicago, Illinois. All of a sudden, I started getting headaches. They became increasingly more frequent. My parents and I started noticing other peculiar things too. It seemed like I was drinking and urinating all the time. I was sleeping in late, often not waking up until the afternoon. I was having severe mood swings. Something was going on...
Monday, July 30, 1990. My brother, sister and I were at camp. My brother got sick, and so my mom took my brother, Jonathan, along with my sister, Marni, and I to the doctor. At the doctor's office, they took a urine sample from me. On the way out, I went to grab a piece of candy like I always did. But, right before I got my hand in the candy bowl, a nurse stopped me and said I couldn't have one. She was stern and unmoving. At that moment, I was in shock. I was dumbfounded that this lady wouldn’t let me enjoy the one good part of visiting the doctor...she's not my parent. I got very confused...
That’s when my world changed forever. My mother seemed very upset. We were going home, but I was going to have to go to the hospital. I remember packing a suitcase with my mom and then going to Lutheran General. They ran some tests. The doctor came in and officially diagnosed me with diabetes. "What's diabetes?" I asked. Then the questions began pouring out. What does it mean? Why did I get it? What will I have to do? Can I eat ice cream? Can I play baseball? I was completely lost. And, so was my mom.
The doctors told me that diabetes meant I had to follow a meal plan, take medication, and exercise regularly. I was only 9 and felt like my life was ruined. That night, I asked my mom why this happened to me and we both cried...
My mom never left my side while at the hospital. Friends and family came to visit daily. I had great support. I spent about a week there before getting released. The day after I got home, my mom let me return to camp. But, now I had to carry a fanny pack with me. Inside the fanny pack was my glucometer, a juice box, peanut butter crackers, and insulin. I hated it. It made me feel different. Upon my return to camp, one of my best friends came up to my mom and said she had nothing to worry about because he would take care of me. That was the first time my mom felt relief since I was diagnosed. Today, that friend is a doctor.
I admit that growing up with diabetes was tough. I ignored and neglected my condition. I had trouble accepting the fact that I had diabetes. I often felt depressed and isolated from the world. Why me?? None of my friends or family had diabetes. I refused to acknowledge it or the lifestyle changes I would have to make. I had continued support from my family, friends, and doctors, but I was resistant to accepting their help. I felt that they didn't know what I was going through. My endocrinologist didn't have diabetes, either. How could they give me advice when they didn't know firsthand what I was going through? No one understood me. There was no one to help me find my way through the constant challenges of Type 1 diabetes. I survived despite myself.
Through the years of neglect, I had several close calls. I was kicked out of overnight camp when I was 12 due to lack of control, forced to leave just four days before the end, missing all the celebration and special good-byes. I had a diabetic seizure at age 14, when my mother saved my life by calling 911. On New Years Eve 2000, I was rushed to the emergency room for a dangerously low glucose that followed too much drinking. In January 2001, while I was staying with my grandmother, I had another diabetic seizure. That time, she was my savior. And in college, my roommates would have to monitor my blood sugars for added support. For that period, I owe many thanks to my best friend for coming to my rescue on multiple occasions.
It wasn't until after college that I came to realize that I was risking damage to myself that I might not be able to undo. After several interventions, a good family friend, Dr. Stewart Segal, got through to me. He said I had to start taking my life seriously or lose it. I had to take care of myself and properly manage my diabetes. It was time to get on the right path. I finally accepted my diabetes and learned to keep it under control. I have not had an emergency room visit since. I feel great and am thankful everyday to be alive. I am grateful for all my friends, family, doctors, and close ones throughout the years. Without them, I wouldn't be here today to tell my story.
But recently, I realized what was missing during my early years as a diabetic. I never had a buddy to talk to who was going through the same thing I was going through—nor someone who already overcame these challenges to whom I could ask questions and from whom I could seek guidance. I needed someone who also had diabetes, someone whom I could trust, and most importantly, to whom I could relate. My family, my friends, and my doctors were all fantastic, but none of them had diabetes. That direct connection was missing.
In 2008, inspired by Imerman Angels (a one-on-one cancer support service), "Jimmy Insulin" was born. Jimmy Insulin provides free one-on-one, peer-to-peer diabetes support. Jimmy Insulin connects diabetes beginners with diabetes guides, and support-seeking caregivers with appropriate counterparts. My mission is clear:
No one touched by diabetes will feel isolated as long as Jimmy Insulin exists.
All my best,
Founder + Executive Director