Special to Iredell Free News
Diabetes is a disease we hear of often. In fact, you likely know a handful of people who have diabetes. Though the word is tossed around so frequently, and the disease is so prevalent, many of us still do not accurately understand what diabetes actually is or the symptoms associated with it.
Diabetes is a life-altering disease. Understanding diabetes and recognizing the signs and symptoms can prevent serious complications of the disease.
When Amy Brant, corporate wellness nurse and program manager for Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center, was diagnosed with diabetes, she experienced these misunderstandings firsthand, both from herself and others.
Brant was a healthy, active 19-year-old college student when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“Type 1 diabetes is known to be an autoimmune issue. It’s when the immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas that make insulin. The human body has to have insulin to process carbohydrates for energy, and the body cannot survive without it,” said Brant.
In November of 1999, Brant contracted a terrible case of tonsillitis. Three months later, she quickly began to experience some unusual symptoms — increased thirst, excessive urination and rapid weight loss.
“Even though I always felt hungry and was constantly eating, I lost 14 pounds in one week. My clothes were falling off of me,” she said.
Her body was not processing the calories she was putting into it, so it had to break down her fat storage as a way to get energy.
Unsure what was happening, Brant decided to look up her symptoms online, and the search result always led her to “diabetes.”
“When it said diabetes, I thought, ‘well, that’s not right.’ In my mind, there was the misconception that you had to be old or overweight to have diabetes,” she said.
After typing in her symptoms several times and receiving the word “diabetes” after every search, Brant decided to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
When Brant’s fasting blood sugar level came back at 296mg/dL — under 100mg/dL is considered a normal fasting level — her doctor knew right away she had diabetes.
Brant’s doctor went back in her medical history to see if she had any viral illnesses recently, and she did. They determined that her tonsillitis three months earlier had triggered her Type 1 diabetes.
“Basically, my immune system made a mistake. So, instead of attacking the virus, it attacked itself and destroyed the insulin-producing cells in my pancreas,” she said.
“It’s usually about one to three months from the time you had the viral trigger that you start to see symptoms,” she added. “The symptoms occur when around 90 percent of your insulin-producing cells in your pancreas are destroyed, and symptoms typically seem to come on overnight.”
There is a common misconception that Type 1 diabetes is strictly genetic. However, several things can trigger it, including viral illnesses and even traumatic events or accidents.
Brant was in the hospital for four days. That’s where she was taught how to inject insulin and count carbohydrates.
“When I left the hospital, I only understood about 20 percent of how to manage my blood sugars and keep myself healthy with this new diagnosis,” said Brant. “That’s another big part of why we push for patients to be referred to educators afterward.”
After receiving her diagnosis and leaving the hospital, Brant felt confused and scared.
“I never knew you could be young and healthy and have diabetes. I remember a lot of people saying, ‘What? You’re not old enough for diabetes’ and ‘But, you’re not overweight,’ ” she said.
Brant had to become much more aware of nearly every behavior, from what she was eating to the time of day she was eating.
Insulin injections can only control blood sugars for a certain duration, so Brant had to give herself injections several times a day. In the beginning, she felt like she had to schedule her entire life around diabetes.
“I spent the first year very frustrated because I could not get the routine figured out. Everyone told me it would get easier, and I did not believe them for a really long time. But, eventually, it did get easier,” she said.
Brant gave herself insulin injections for eight years. In 2008, she decided to get an insulin pump, which allows for more freedom when it comes to calculating insulin doses all day long. She also uses a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that gives her more consistent insight into how her blood sugars are trending.
“It took me a good six months to a year after my diagnosis before I felt like I truly understood how to manage my diabetes, but there are definitely still times when my numbers are tough to control and frustration sets in,” she said.
Brant originally graduated college and worked in country music radio and television production. After returning to school to become a nurse in 2010, Brant started her nursing career in critical care and eventually went on to become a diabetes educator, dedicating her career to empowering others trying to navigate life with diabetes.
“As a diabetes educator, I want people to be aware of what diabetes is and the symptoms associated with it,” said Brant.
With Type 1 diabetes, recognizing the symptoms early is crucial for treatment. Unfortunately, Type 1 can get missed a little more frequently, especially in children.
“Over the last 10 years, I can think of three or four cases where young kids, six and under, go to the doctor and complain of stomach pain and general malaise. When kids are that young, a lot of times, ‘they just have a bug, no big deal,’ but these kids have died, and it’s preventable.”
“One finger stick at the doctor’s office and they would have known that the blood sugar was out of control,” she said.
If not diagnosed properly, Type 1 can potentially be a very silent and quick killer.
As we near the end of Diabetes Awareness Month, Brant wishes people would be aware of three things:
“We want people to understand what diabetes is and that there are differences between the types. It is not always eating sugar or having a sedentary lifestyle that leads to a diagnosis;
“People with diabetes are strong, resilient, and have to make multiple decisions each and every day. According to a Stanford study, people with diabetes have to make an extra 180 decisions related to their health each day; and
“There are resources available to help those with diabetes live their best and most healthy life possible. The Iredell Wellness and Diabetes Center is here to help.”
If you have recently received a diabetes diagnosis, know that you are not alone, and it will not be this hard forever. An appointment with a diabetes educator can give you the resources needed to help you manage your diabetes.
“I like to remind my patients that we are all stronger than we think we are. And sometimes, we don’t know that strength until we’re forced to find it. And if you haven’t been forced yet, this is your time. You will find that strength,” she said.
To make an appointment with Amy Brant at the Iredell Wellness and Diabetes Center, please speak to your primary care provider about a referral. You can also call the diabetes center directly at 704-878-4556 and request they contact your provider.
About Iredell Health System
Iredell Health System includes Iredell Memorial Hospital; Iredell Mooresville; Iredell Home Health; Iredell Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center; Community and Corporate Wellness; Occupational Medicine; the Iredell Physician Network and more. Iredell Memorial Hospital is the largest and only nonprofit hospital in Iredell County. The comprehensive healthcare facility has 247 beds; more than 1,700 employees; and has 260 physicians representing various specialties. Centers of excellence include Women’s and Children’s; Cardiovascular; Cancer; Surgical Services and Wellness & Prevention. The Health System’s newest campus, Iredell Mooresville, is home to the area’s only 24-hour urgent care facility, as well as an ambulatory surgery center, imaging center, rehabilitation services, and physician practices. The mission of Iredell Health System is to inspire wellbeing. For a comprehensive list of services and programs, visit www.iredellhealth.org.