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.
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 has type 1 – or juvenile – diabetes, and now has to inject herself with insulin.
“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.”
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“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.”
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.
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 below as she answers key questions about living with diabetes since she was eight-years-old and how she keeps her condition under control: