Diabetes Dialogues

Meet Jenna

Meet Jenna

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at nine years old. This came as a shock to my parents and me, as no one in my family had ever been diagnosed with diabetes. Still, to this day, I am the only person who lives with diabetes in my family. Prior to my diagnosis, I remember feeling sick and being thirsty all the time. When I went to the doctor, they wanted to test me for everything under the sun, from Crohn’s disease to other autoimmune diseases. 

When I was finally diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, my parents were supportive, ensuring that I ate healthy foods and exercised regularly. My parents would also administer my insulin. I remember being apprehensive of the needle and vial initially, but I eventually adapted and got used to this routine.

When I turned 16, I started managing my own medications and insulin administration without help from my parents. I think this exposure to medicine early on sparked a passion for health care, and early in my career I became a scrub tech at a hospital. This eventually led me to becoming a first assist in an operating room. I believe that working in the health care field and having a medical background helped me navigate my diabetes management. However, even with the background and medical knowledge I had, I was unprepared for the diabetes complications that would arise later in my life. 

At 10 years old I was given glasses, but I don’t remember doctors communicating to me that there were risks of vision loss that came with a diabetes diagnosis. At 25, one of my doctors told me that I should start getting annual eye exams, and while I did start to do so, I did not get a retinal exam until I was 32. At that appointment, I was told I had mild diabetic retinopathy. That condition progressed to proliferative diabetic retinopathy by my late 30s. At the time, I remember seeing floaters in my vision that I thought were small gnats. Looking back, I ignored the initial signs that something was wrong and by the time I was 39, despite many surgeries, there was nothing I could do to save my sight. 

I became fully blind in June 2022, and I can confidently say that the hardest part was having my independence taken away from me—suddenly I couldn’t drive, couldn’t go to the grocery store, and worst of all was losing the ability to see my 10-year-old son. While I went through a period of depression, I recognized shortly after that I was the only one who could pull myself out of this—I was determined to find a way to put a positive spin on what happened to my vision. 

Today, I am still able to live a full life of enjoying time with my son, playing sports like golf and bowling, and attending my favorite concerts. I also recently started a satirical TikTok channel, @theblindchupacabra, to share my story of vision loss and educate people about diabetes complications. One piece of advice I have for someone who was recently diagnosed with diabetes is that it’s not the disease that kills you, it’s the complications. Since your health can change so quickly, it’s crucial to see your diabetes care team regularly to keep a check on your overall health, including your eyes, hands, and feet.