By Evelyn Berry, staff writer
According to the CDC, in America today 30.3 million people have diabetes. That’s about 9.4% of the population. Further research suggests that 7.2 million people (23.8%) have the disease but are not diagnosed. Diabetes is caused when the immune system attacks insulin cells, which causes the body to no longer produce the correct amount of insulin to regulate blood sugar. For people who have the disease, it affects every part of their lives. A few Bio-Med teachers and students know this firsthand.
At six years old, senior Ashley Pawlowski was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
“I went to a normal pediatric check-up … and they tested my urine for ketones,” she explained. Ketones indicate Diabetic Ketoacidosis, but it can be an indicator of other issues as well. “From there the doctor ordered that I go to the hospital.”
Ashley described the painful process that then occurred at the hospital.
“I got an IV, the worst pain in my whole life, because I was so little. I had to get my blood sugar checked every 15 minutes, and that hurt,” she said. “After about two hours of that, they took me to an overnight unit.”
At this point, Ashley hadn’t eaten for 12 hours.
“I was so weak due to me not eating, and they constantly came in to take my blood.” Ashley said that she was afraid of the prospect of the nurse giving her a shot, but the nurse said, “This is happening for the rest of your life, dear; you have to get used to it.”
Reflecting on how her diagnosis changed her life, Ashley said, “Becoming diabetic was a big eye-opener for me. I had to become more responsible at a young age. I was fully taking care of myself two months after. That includes giving myself shots, carb counting and more.”
There are other challenges as well, like the increase in the price of insulin.
“It’s not even in insulin,” she said. “It’s everything that has to do with Diabetes. For example, about a month ago Insulet, the makers of my insulin pump, decided to up the prices and not even tell us. My order used to be like $150 per mail order (three boxes of ten pods) and now they are $200 per box. That is outrageous. I am on Generic Insulin now. We can’t even afford the real kind! They make it for like $8 and sell it for like $600. It’s ridiculous. We even have two insurances covering my stuff, and my parents still have to pay out of pocket for meds. It’s not just the prices, it’s the insurance companies too. ”
Insurance coverage isn’t something that most teenagers have to worry about.
“With the new pre-existing conditions rule I might not even be able to get covered,” she explained. A pre-existing condition is when a patient already has a diagnosed condition prior to getting insurance. Some insurances will not cover costs associated with these pre-existing conditions. “Who knows what life has in store for me. Let’s just hope things work out.”
In 2015 a teacher here at Bio-Med, Mr. Ulliger, received the same diagnosis of Diabetes, but at the age of 32. He described the symptoms that lead him to his diagnosis.
“I wasn’t really sleeping and I wasn’t really eating. I also didn’t understand; it felt normal that I was mysteriously losing 40 or 60 pounds over the course of four months. Then I started noticing things, like I always had to go to the bathroom, I was sweating a lot, you know. I started finding myself on Kent State campus walking across campus and suddenly stopping and wondering where I was going. Just forgetting where I was at. Because like, your brain function is affected by [Diabetes]. I was a lot more irritable; my wife started noticing that.”
He also remembers the confusion and fear that was brought with this diagnoses,
“It was finally on Thanksgiving of 2015. We were at my wife’s grandparents’ house [and they commented] about how skinny I was looking. And finally I was just like, I am going to get this checked out, and they told me I had type one diabetes. Adults usually don’t get diagnosed with it. I had problems with insincere people believing me. It’s kind of a scary thing. You don’t know what the cost of healthcare is going to be. So it was kinda scary.”
The increased cost of insulin affects Ullinger too.
“Luckily, I have been pretty decently insured. I have my insurance and my wife’s insurance, so it costs me about $25 to $30 for a one month’s supply of my daytime insulin and $55 for my night time medicine, something like that.”
Not everyone is so well insured, according to Ullinger.
“The biggest thing,” he explained “is one of the few people who had it like I have … passed away last January because he couldn’t afford his insulin. And many of us knew he was struggling; like we were trying to give him extra insulin pens and this and that. And you know he was rationing himself; he was cutting himself off from insulin on certain days or only doing it at certain times.”
Ullinger explains that if a person with low pancreatic function waits until later in the evening to administer insulin, his numbers might be too high or too low, which makes it hard to administer the right amount of insulin. That person then runs the risk of injecting too much insulin.
“And that’s pretty much what he did,” Ullinger explains. “He gave himself too much insulin and died on his kitchen floor. His girlfriend came home in the morning and found him like that. That kind of stuff has been hard, but you know I have been lucky.”