By Kathryn Richards
October 14, 1991 was pivotal in Kristi McLane”s life. It was that day when Kristi, at only 10 years of age, was diagnosed with diabetes.
Now, at 20, she has come a long way.
“I”ve learned a lot about myself,” she said. “Self restraint, will power — it”s just taught me a lot in a lot of different ways.”
But those things have not come easily.
Challenges came not long after Kristi”s diagnosis. Not only did she have to stay hospitalized four days until she learned to give herself insulin shots — Halloween was only a few days away.
“It was hard,” Kristi said. “As a 10-year-old girl, I mean, I was dying that I couldn”t eat any of the stuff.”
But she has learned to adjust. And she has learned about diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease where the pancreas cannot release insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
In Kristi”s case, she got diabetes after an illness attacked her pancreas, leaving her insulin unusable.
For years, Kristi had to give herself three insulin shots a day to control her blood sugar: before breakfast, before dinner and before bed.
Three years ago, Kristi got a device that has simplified her life — an insulin pump, which is always attached to her, and releases insulin throughout the day.
The pump is attached to a small tube that is inserted in the first layer of skin on her stomach area. She removes it only to run, swim and shower. Kristi can control the amount of insulin released by the simple push of a button.
While the normal person has an average blood sugar level between 80 and 120, Kristi”s ideal average is between 120 and 140. She checks her blood sugar level between seven and 10 times a day.
Diabetes even determines what and when Kristi eats. For example, breakfast comprises two starches, one protein, one fat and one fruit. That translates to half a plain bagel, a cup of 2 percent milk and half a banana.
“With the pump, you can eat pretty much whatever you want, but you cannot eat however much you want,” Kristi said. “I can have a little bit of brownies and ice cream, but I can”t sit down and gorge.”
But Kristi was not always so vigilant. She said there were times in junior high when she would sneak more treats than she should have.
“When you can”t have something, you want it that much more,” Kristi said. “One sliver of brownies would turn into half the pan…It got to the point where my parents would sit me down and say, ”Do you know why they call diabetes the silent killer? Because it happens slowly over a long period of time.””
Diabetes” complications can in fact be serious. Long term, it can cause blindness, kidney failure and heart disease.
“Most people don”t realize how serious diabetes is,” said Kristi”s mother, Cheryl, who lives in Houston.
But Kristi has since come to realize the seriousness and has cracked down on her discipline.
“She has taken such good care of herself, her body hardly knows she has diabetes,” Cheryl said. “Kristi has the type of temperament and perseverance and determination and attitude, that she tackled this on her own. She is absolutely 100 percent on top of this thing.”
Now, as a college student, Kristi”s keeps a stiff pace.
Her day begins with a run each morning at 6 a.m. And with classes, her job and plenty of homework, she keeps busy until night.
“It”s a pretty non-stop day,” Kristi said. “Thank goodness for the weekends, my roommates and my insulin pump.”
Kristi even has hope for a cure.
She recently became a prime candidate for a revolutionary study that would transfer cells from a healthy pancreas to hers. The procedure would eliminate the need for strict diet control and her insulin pump.
“That”ll be amazing,” Kristi said. “But I would never take back the 10 years I”ve had to live with it. It”s taught me so much.”