Only overweight people can contract Diabetes. Diabetics can stop taking insulin if they control their diet. People with diabetes can’t have any sugar.
“It bothers me that people make those stereotypes about Diabetes, but it doesn’t bother me too much because it’s more of an opportunity for me to correct them and enlighten them on the misconception of what diabetes is,” senior Justin Yan said.
Yan is currently diagnosed with Type One diabetes, an incurable genetic condition caused by inactive pancreatic cells that normally produce insulin to regulate blood sugar level.
“I think a lot of people refer to diabetes as Type Two and don’t realize it,” Yan said. “Type One diabetes is a genetic problem whereas Type Two is both curable and obtainable at the same time with proper or improper dieting.”
At four years old, Yan went on a camping trip to Big Bear Mountain. While he was in 105 degrees weather, symptoms of the condition began to unfold when he would ask for a cup of water every 30 minutes. By the fourth time Yan asked, he found himself digging through the refrigerator and chugging down half a gallon of milk.
When Yan returned from the trip at around 4:30 p.m, his mother, a nurse, tested him with a urine glucose dipstick, a diagnostic tool which measures the level of glucose in one’s urine. The dipstick showed that Yan’s glucose count was 2000, the highest count, and immediately afterwards, his parents sped down to the Huntington Memorial Hospital.
“I was taken to emergency room in a hurry, but I just strolled in, seeming perfectly fine because I didn’t show any major symptoms,” Yan said. “I couldn’t feel my veins because my kidney was working so hard to deplete all the sugar.”
Once the doctors realized Yan was experiencing Diabetic Ketoacidosis, a condition in which one’s body starts to burn fat for energy and produces ketones, he was rushed into an Intensive Care unit before he passed out. Yan had a water IV and an insulin pump to restore his body back to its normal conditions.
“My parents were worried, sad and shocked. [My mom] stayed with me in the hospital for five days. It was something they didn’t expect because I was around one in 160,000 people to contract Type One at the time,” Yan said.
Because of the incident, Yan’s family changed their lifestyle by always monitoring their diet to stabilize Yan’s blood glucose levels rather than eating any type of food. However, Yan is able to control the amount of food he consumes by checking his food’s carbohydrate intake and consuming the right amount of insulin.
“When I was younger, I couldn’t hold [anything] in my fingers when my blood sugar [was] low, and I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands straight because I’m constantly shaking. When my blood sugar’s high, I’m thirsty and sometimes I get sleepy. Usually when you’re low, you can’t process what’s going on, but I was able to adjust to it and not feel restricted because of it,” Yan said.
To track his blood glucose levels, Yan uses a device called “One-Touch” which pricks the skin of his fingertips. The blood is put into the strip connected to the device then it shows his blood sugar levels in numbers (normal levels are from 70-130).
“I don’t really encounter people who are afraid of what I’m doing because they don’t come up to me, they just make that assumption. As for the people that I am around, they already know,” Yan said.
Aware of his condition, Yan’s friends make sure he manage his condition properly. If his blood sugar levels are high, he would inject insulin with a syringe, but if his levels are low, he would consume any form of glucose to regulate his levels.
“It’s usually a surprise for people who find out I have diabetes. For certain conditions, you would expect it to be really obvious, but Diabetes is just not one of those,” Yan said. “I can still maintain a normal lifestyle like any other person.”
Despite his condition, Yan was able to participate in his favorite sports, basketball and soccer. He was part of the American Youth Soccer Association at Walnut Ranch Park and Walnut Youth Basketball at the Teen Center.
“If my blood sugar is low and I go into a sport, I wouldn’t be able to focus. If my blood sugar is high and I go into a sport, I feel sluggish sometimes. It’s like depleting your energy,” Yan said. “But as long as I was able to manage my levels and take care of my body, I was able to play normally. I was glad that I was still able to play sports because it really takes my mind off of stress.”
For Yan, eventually, constantly checking his blood sugar levels and injecting insulin when necessary became another part of his life and not a disadvantage.
“Having the condition gives me hope to know that if I have made it through having diabetes for 13 years, I am capable of accomplishing a lot more in the years to come,” Yan said. “It allows me to encourage or support others in similar or worse conditions because I am able to relate with them in a sense. Of course it is a serious condition, but I try to take it with a light heart.”
By Eric Peng, Editor-in-Chief
Photo by Emily Chen