Andrea Swenson-Hagel of Billings was 10 years old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2005.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
Only 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children with Type 1 diabetes can learn to manage their condition. About 1 in every 400 to 600 children and adolescents has type 1 diabetes.
Since 1987, the death rate from diabetes has increased by 45 percent while the death rates due to cancer, heart disease and stroke have declined, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The statistics are grim, but, as you will see, Swenson-Hagel is anything but gloomy. She is a typical teenage girl who enjoys music, movies and a certain movie star.
She is the daughter of Scott Swenson and Debra Hagel. She has an 11-year-old brother, Adam.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you had diabetes?
A: Since I was 10, I didn't really know what it meant, so I didn't have a big reaction.
Q: What does it mean to have type 1 diabetes?
A: It just means that I have a disease where I have to take care of myself so I don't die. But I can still live a long, happy life just like any other person.
Q: How has having Type 1 diabetes affected your life?
A: It makes some things difficult as a teenager. If I go to a friend's house for a slumber party, I have to pause and test my blood sugar level, but then I get right back to what we were doing. That's no big deal for anybody.
Q: What is the most difficult part of having Type I diabetes?
A: Having low blood sugar. You get a funny feeling. It's a feeling you can't really describe. I just don't like it. Like Mom said, I feel unfocused and disoriented.
Q: Is there an upside to having the disease?
A: It's affected me in a good way because I eat healthier. I exercise an hour every day in the gym and on the stair-stepper.
Q: What do you do to control the disease?
A: Diet and exercise. I use a diabetic insulin pump and test my blood sugar eight times a day.
Q: How does the insulin pump work?
A: An insulin pump is a small battery-operated device about the size of a small cell phone. It continuously delivers small amounts of insulin through an infusion line placed under the skin. The infusion set must be changed every few days, which I do myself.
Q: How do insulin pumps work?
A: An insulin pump has a reservoir that is filled with insulin and a microcomputer that allows me to adjust how much insulin is delivered. I can program different amounts of insulin for different times of the day and night. When I eat, I use buttons on the pump to give me more insulin to cover the carbohydrates in the meal.
Q: Will you have the disease the rest of your life?
A: Yes, unless they find a cure in my lifetime.
Q: If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
A: I don't think I'd change a thing because I like the way I am.
Q: Favorite food?
A: Grilled cheese sandwich.
Q: Is there any food you can't have?
A: I can have anything I want as long as it's in moderation.
Q: Favorite musician?
A: The David Crowder Band.
Q: Favorite pastime?
A: Hanging out with friends. We go to the movies a lot and have sleepovers.
Q: Favorite actor:
A: Leonardo Dicaprio. I love him.
Q: Celebrity crush:
A: Leonardo Dicaprio.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
A: You enjoy life. You're happy with what you have. Life doesn't revolve around material things.
Q: Favorite movie:
A: The “Harry Potter” series. “Harry Potter” rules over “Twilight.”
Q: What is your grade-point average?
Q: Favorite subject:
Q: Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. What are you most thankful for?
A: The great friends and family I have in my life.
Q: What will you most likely eat too much of on Thanksgiving?
A: Pumpkin pie
Q: How often do you have to visit your doctor?
A: Every three months.
Q: Who is your doctor?
A: Dr. Fred Gunville at Billings Clinic. He's good. He's very friendly and very social, and he's a diabetic, too. He can really understand and relate to me.
Q: What message do you want to send to other teenagers who have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes or just discovered they have it?
A: Just take care of yourself, and you can live a long and happy life just like any other person.
Contact Cindy Uken at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1287.