Making a point

Caitlin MacDonald is getting tired of people telling her she’s diabetic because she ate too much sugar.

Caitlin MacDonald with an insulin pen used by Type I diabetics.

Caitlin MacDonald is getting tired of people telling her she’s diabetic because she ate too much sugar.

“A lot of people are really ignorant about it,” says MacDonald, a 2011 Clayton Heights Secondary grad who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 11.

Once, in Grade 7, a teacher refused to let her inside the school after classes had ended, even though her blood sugar was dangerously low, and she needed to retrieve a bottle of juice from her locker. The friend who helped her  raise a ruckus ended up suspended for a day.

Another time MacDonald was kicked out of class by a teacher who mistook her life-sustaining insulin pump for a cell phone.

People have even thought she was contagious.

“They just don’t understand.”

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that attacks the beta cells in the pancreas, preventing the production of insulin, which converts sugar into energy in the body. Type I diabetics like MacDonald rely on insulin injections or insulin pumps instead.

In an age when good, easy-to-understand medical information is available with the click of a mouse button, it seems incredible that people don’t know the facts when it comes to such a common disease.

The trouble is diabetics look healthy on the outside.

But, she points out, diabetics can suffer complications like blindness, liver problems, nerve problems, even amputations and death if they don’t take proper care of themselves.

“I think people don’t realize how serious this disease can be.”

In honour of Diabetes Awareness Month, the 18-year-old has pledged to complete a different awareness activity each day of November, from giving away

balloons and brochures to collecting donations at work for diabetes research.

On Monday, she and a few friends planned to paint themselves in blue (the diabetes colour) and go around quizzing people about diabetes.

It’s all part of a self-styled campaign she hopes will help set the record straight when it comes to the facts about Type 1 diabetes.

She’s also taken her campaign to YouTube, where she’s launched her own channel, DiabeticDreams, and posted several informative videos about Type I diabetes in hopes of reaching a wider audience with her message.

Closer to home, she’s completed a guidebook for students, parents and teachers she’s attempting to have approved as a resource for Surrey schools.

“It covers everything from sports teams and what you should have in your locker, to what teachers should notice,” she says.

It’s a more detailed version of an easy-to-read pamphlet she wrote and started circulating last year called How To Survive High School With Type 1 Diabetes.

The guide’s tips and reminders were aimed at making the transition from elementary to high school easier for students and parents.

It contains helpful, sensitive advice, like reminding students not to leave the classroom alone when they’re feeling “low”, or hypoglycemic, and for parents to respect their child’s desire for more independence.

When she showed it to her teachers at Clayton Heights Secondary, they encouraged her to take it a step further. So she added more details, fleshing it out to about 1,500 words.

She says having Type 1 diabetes has made her a stronger person, and it certainly hasn’t stopped her from doing all of the things she wants to accomplish.

“With diabetes, you can have a completely healthy life if you manage it properly.”

These days, she’s a busy student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University who juggles her studies with her job at Montana’s Cookhouse.

She hopes to eventually earn a PhD in psychology, and one day work as a hospital counsellor working with newly-diagnosed patients.

A talented athlete, she was captain of lacrosse and ruby teams, and played soccer as well.

“Diabetes doesn’t restrict you from doing anything like that,” she says.

It’s a message she’s determined to share.

“If I can bring a book that is easy to read and is straightforward and takes five minutes to flip through or it’s watching a three-minute video that will help, then I’m going to do that,” she says.

“I wouldn’t want someone to go through what I went through.”

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