Being diagnosed with a long-term disease affects everyone differently. But Amy Hanson and Samantha Weaver have decided they won’t let their diabetes control them. Instead, both are dedicated to creating their own future and inspiring others to do the same. At just 17 years old, Samantha Weaver (Sami) has a long history with diabetes. At 18 months old, Sami was the youngest person to be diagnosed with T1D in Michigan at the time. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Sami’s family had been struggling to make an 18-month-old Sami feel better for weeks as she experienced flu-like symptoms. Her parents, Scott and Melanie Weaver, took Sami to the doctor numerous times but found no relief. The family needed answers and found them when Sami’s grandmother — a nurse — demanded they do blood work. “For three weeks straight we were told she just had the flu after taking her in frequently. She couldn’t keep anything down and she had quit walking and talking. That was scary,” Sami’s father Scott, President and CEO of the Douglas J Companies and JDRF board member, recalls. “My mother-in-law was a nurse and had worked with children. She went in and demanded we do blood work. We got a call two hours later and were told to go directly to the emergency room and not to let Sami fall asleep. Her sugar was over 900 and a normal level would be between 80 and 120. Basically, she was being poisoned,” said Scott. “They hooked her up and began flushing her system and delivering insulin. It took four days to stabilize her.” Amy Hanson’s fight with diabetes started later in life compared to Sami, but earlier than many with type 2 diabetes (T2D). In T2D the body does not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for what it lacks but over time it isn’t able to keep up to maintain a normal level. Hanson, an administrative assistant at Maritime Life, does not suffer from T1D like Sami but faces a different set of struggles in her effort to control her T2D. Hanson was 21 when she received her diagnosis and found little comfort in her doctor at the time. “I honestly had no idea. I had gone in for a yearly check up like I always do and they did a urine test. It came back and said the sugar in my urine was high and that could mean I had diabetes. I didn’t know much about it at all. All I knew was my grandma had it and that was it,” Hanson said. “My doctor was very rude when I was finally diagnosed. When they told me I didn’t know how to react and I didn’t know what emotions to have. She just looked at me and said ‘Why aren’t you upset, don’t you know what this means?’ I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know if I should be scared or if I was going to die.” Both ladies currently live happy, active lives and have found ways to cope with the disease. Each found comfort in educating themselves and others about diabetes. “It’s really about educating yourself. You have to learn about it to make sure you are checking your numbers like you are supposed to,” said Hanson. “You have to learn what can trigger certain things and learn about the long-term effects.” The Weaver family took classes to educate themselves on T1D and are now active supporters of JDRF, which supports education and research of T1D. “Sami’s mom and I had to go to classes and learn how to deliver shots and test her sugar. She does that all herself now but from a very young age she had to learn everything that goes into managing it,” Scott said. Sami knows that there will always be questions from other people about diabetes and she decided long ago that she would answer them honestly in hopes of raising awareness and educating the public. “When I started school I knew something was a little different. I always had to go to the office to get shots. There were always questions. I was the only kid in the district that had it so I would answer questions and help the other kids understand,” said Sami. “I went to a camp for kids with diabetes for six years and now I help other kids and even some in my high school with how to manage their blood sugar.” Sami and a friend also associated with JDRF are starting a mentoring program for newly-diagnosed kids, especially since kids who are diagnosed later in life tend to struggle more with maintenance. The program will create a network of mentors for these individuals to lean on when needed. But struggling to maintain a healthy blood sugar level isn’t the only hardship that Hanson and Sami face. The constant flood of questions and the equipment and medicine each has to carry with them can become a burden socially, but each agrees, self-confidence is the key to being proud of who you are. “Sometimes it can get in the way but I have to deal with it,” said Sami. “I don’t like doing it, but I am not going to let it stop me. I like having an active lifestyle and (diabetes) comes with you when you go out, so you still have to pay attention and stop and take care of it. I don’t hide it, it’s just something I have to do.” Sami’s dad adds, “I see a level of confidence in her. She is very comfortable with who she is and what comes along with that.” Hanson summed it up nicely when she said, “I want everyone with diabetes to know that it isn’t the end of the world. You have to make adjustments and educate yourself. Don’t let it stop you, own it!” More than 2,000 walkers representing local businesses, families, schools and other organizations are expected to participate in the JDRF Metro Detroit & SE Michigan Chapter’s 10th Annual JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes, on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 at The Rock on the campus of Michigan State University. With the help of presenting sponsor, The Douglas J Aveda Institute, other corporate partners as well as family and corporate teams, JDRF is working toward a fundraising goal of $400,000, which will help fund critically needed type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF’s goal is to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people’s lives until we achieve a world without T1D. In T1D, a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. People with T1D must carefully balance insulin doses (by either injections multiple times a day or continuous infusion through a pump) with eating and other activities throughout the day and night. They must also measure their blood-glucose level by pricking their finger for blood six or more times a day. Despite this constant attention, people with T1D still run the risk of dangerously high or low blood glucose, both of which can be life threatening. To learn more about the disease, visit jdrf.org. JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes information can be found at http://www2.jdrf.org/site/TR/Walk/Chapter-MichiganNWOhioWalks4517?pg=entry&fr_id=3963
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.