Flying down the highway, 8-year-old Hannah Young watched the scenery outside whiz past the moving car. She sat inside with her parents and three brothers as they made the long drive back from a family vacation to Florida.
Suddenly, Hannah realized she needed to use the restroom.
The brood pulled over, filed out, took a bathroom break and piled back into the car to continue their drive.
Moments later, Hannah needed to use the restroom again.
Slightly annoyed, the family stopped at the next exit and again, filed out, let Hannah use the restroom, piled back in and took off. Hannah’s parents, Joe and Beckye Young did not think a thing of it. Hannah was a young girl; she probably drank too much water before the car ride.
Again, about 30 minutes later, Hannah needed to use the restroom. And again. And again. At nearly every exit the family approached during the five hour drive.
Beckye decided that a visit to the pediatrician was in order.
“We called the doctor that morning and told the pediatrician’s office she had a bladder infection,” she said.
Beckye and Hannah, along with her three brothers, went to the doctor, as a pit stop on their way to school registration with the expectation that the doctor would prescribe some medication for a bladder infection, and they would be on their way.
“Dr. Harrell asked me if Joe could come pick up the other kids,” Beckye said. “She told me that Hannah and I needed to go immediately to Scottish Rite for more testing.”
After a long wait at Scottish Rite, the test results were in.
Hannah had Type 1 diabetes.
“We were shocked, overwhelmed with the diagnosis,” Beckye said. “No one in our family had ever had Type 1 diabetes.”
To the family’s, and to Hannah’s dismay, diabetes would become part of their everyday lives.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), about 1.25 million Americans live with Type 1 diabetes, and an estimated 40,000 are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Only 5 percent of those diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1. Most who have Type 1 will be diagnosed in childhood or as young adults.
What was happening in Hannah’s body was her pancreas not producing insulin. According to the ADA, the body breaks down sugars and starches that are consumed into a simple sugar called glucose, which is then used for energy.
The ADA defines insulin as “a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.”
No insulin means no glucose.
After her diagnosis, Hannah spent a week in the hospital learning what it meant to live with diabetes. Her doctors taught her and her parents how to properly inject her shots, initially injecting six shots every day.
Twelve years later, Georgia College junior Hannah reflected on her disease, showing off her insulin pump that she now uses instead of injecting herself every day. She pulled out her glucose monitor because she had to adjust it for her medium white mocha drink.
“If I was taking shots, I’d be taking five shots a day,” Hannah said. “I did that when I was eight, and I was covered in bruises. Sometimes I used to skip meals, so I wouldn’t have to take shots.”
Hannah’s mother said that at first, Hannah did not understand that she had just been sentenced to a lifelong illness.
“The entire family had to adjust to Hannah’s diabetes,” Beckye said. “She was a trooper, but it was hard.”
Her parents wanted to help her cope the best they could, so the very first summer after her diagnosis, they signed her up for Camp Kudzu, a non-profit camp in Georgia for Type 1 diabetics.
“It is an understatement to say this camp changed her life,” Beckye said. “Seeing a camp full of kids just like her showed her she was not alone. She learned to give herself shots at this camp, and her acceptance and outlook was that she was one of many and would be okay.
After being a camper for so many years, Hannah now works there as a counselor.
“[Diabetes] sucks, and if there was a cure then obviously I’d want the cure,” Hannah said. “But in general, it’s brought me so many people into my life because of camp. When you meet another diabetic, that’s a bond that you can’t replicate.”
Hannah said her journey through diabetes is one she wouldn’t trade because not only did it bring her close friends through Camp Kudzu, but it led her to pursue a degree in nursing, a career she is passionate about and hopes will lead her to work with other diabetics.
“Because of the camp that I work at, I just love working with other diabetics,” Hannah said. “I nanny for families with children who have diabetes because dear God, I don’t think my parents ever went out after I was diagnosed.”
Her diagnosis not only lit the path for her career, but it also led her to be an activist for diabetes awareness on Georgia College’s campus. She and a few others living with diabetes recently started a chapter of the College Diabetes Network where students can go for community and support. A transfer student, Hannah also started a College Diabetes network at her previous college, Kennesaw State University.
“I love to help educate,” she said.
Hannah’s friends said she has a refreshing openness about her condition.
“She has a really good attitude about it,” said her close friend Hailey Lawson, whom Hannah met at Georgia College. “It’s not a matter of suffering. It’s just a way of life, and she is responsible with it.”
Hannah has spent the past 12 years, enduring constant finger pricks, injections, doctors visits, continuous glucose monitor insertions and pump site changes. For a study abroad trip to the United Kingdom, she had to lug along all her devices, which she even ran out of while visiting London.
After all she has endured, the part of this disease she said makes her the most uncomfortable are the stares from strangers they quietly try to make sense of what that thing attached to her arm is or what that box with a tube coming out of it is doing in her back pocket.
“I’m the type of person who, if someone sees the little thing in my back pocket, I’d rather them just ask me what it is than stare at it,” she said. “I’m a very open person. At the beach, that’s a big thing when I have all these devices on me. People stare. I see them watching me as I walk, and that makes me uncomfortable.”
Along with these daily challenges, Hannah faced her most grave challenge just under a year ago when one of Hannah’s closest Camp Kudzu friends, Marquis House, passed away in February from a diabetes complication.
House, a Type 1 diabetic, slipped into what’s called diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA. To this day, Hannah becomes emotional when talking about her loss.
“It’s nothing to take lightly,” said Alice Loper, nurse practitioner and director of Georgia College Health and Wellness Services. “When the sugar levels are high, it affects every blood vessel in the body.”
She explained that diabetic ketoacidosis is when “your body starts feeding off of itself, so to speak. You start metabolizing the fats of the body. Normal blood sugar is about 100 ... we’re talking about a blood sugar of five or six hundred. They will eventually go into a coma.”
Death, she said, would occur in about a day.
“It terrified the living s--- out of me,” Hannah said of House’s death. “He’d been DKA a few times and hospitalized. I’ve been taking better care of myself since then, not because I’m at that level, I’ve never been in DKA or hospitalized, but I’d never seen diabetes as a deadly disease before.”
After all Hannah has experienced, after all of the blood tests, all of the endocrinologist visits, all of the shots and finger pricks and staring eyes, what shines through Hannah most powerfully is not shame. It is not embarrassment. It is not sensitivity. It is pride. In the best way possible, she is proud of her story.
“I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t have diabetes,” she said. With a laugh she added, “I tell people I’m a double whammy because I’m a Jewish diabetic.”
Hannah is, in her own words, “a proud owner of a useless pancreas.”