Anyone can get Type 1 Diabetes, but it is most common in the young–individuals under the age of 25. When I was entering adulthood, I had four friends diagnosed–Four! My friend Stef was diagnosed at age 22, just three days before we headed to the Bahamas for Spring break. I watched her give herself injections in her abdomen every morning and night during the trip, but I didn’t really have an understanding of the disease or how lifesaving these injections were. My close friend Aimee was diagnosed when she was 24. It was still called Juvenile Diabetes back then and I remember thinking how odd that two friends in their 20s got a childhood disease. She told me the disease ran in her family–her father had it–and she was not surprised when she was diagnosed. Her mom recognized the symptoms immediately and Aimee was able to avoid being hospitalized (very rare). My high school friend Stephanie was diagnosed when she was 28. As far as diagnoses go, this was rather late in age, but it is not unheard of. Stephanie, having lost her parents while she was in high school, had no idea the disease ran in her family–similar to my situation. The diagnosis was a shock, but of all my friends, I think she was the strongest. To this day, she is a strong advocate for education and acceptance of Type 1. Finally, the first of my friends to be diagnosed was Kevin Ritz, a boy I grew up with. We went to the same church and attended school together. Kevin was one of those really smart, high energy theater kids. Everyone loved being around him, including me. Kevin was diagnosed in college when he was attending UVA. I don’t know if Kevin wantonly ignored the symptoms or just didn’t recognize them, but he fell into a coma and was rushed to the hospital before he was diagnosed. Unfortunately, Kevin was never released from the hospital and died at the age of 24–too young to leave this world.
Even though Type 1 is hereditary, it may not appear for generations. Aimee is the only one of my friends who knew the disease was present in her genetics and knew how to recognize the symptoms. Even though I knew people with diabetes, I never educated myself about the disease or learned to recognize the symptoms. We were fortunate that my son was not more ill than he was when diagnosed. We recognized something was wrong when we were on vacation–my son was waking in the middle of the night to drink water and use the bathroom–something he never did before. He said he had been doing this for weeks, but because our bedroom at home is on the opposite side of the house, we never noticed and he never said anything. Every day, I am thankful we went on vacation that week and stayed in the condo we did, where the bathroom was right outside our room. I think it likely saved my son from a medical emergency. But I also wonder that if I had known the symptoms, would I have noticed the problems earlier?