This week we are featuring the inspiring story of Omnipod wearer Suzi Vietti. Suzi has lived with diabetes for 50 years, overcoming numerous obstacles on her way to become, among other things, the First Female Powered Parachute Sport Pilot, as well as one of the coolest 63-year-old grandmothers on the planet. Check back later this week for parts two and three of Suzi’s story.
My type 1 diabetes story begins in April 1964 when I was 14 years old. I was nearing the end of eight grade and suddenly began drinking a lot of water. I wish my mother or I would have realized how classic a symptom of diabetes that was, but neither of us did. It didn't take long for it to be diagnosed, however, and my long journey with the disease began.
I marvel now at how far we have come in our knowledge and testing methodologies from back then. The only way for me to monitor my blood sugar level when I was 14 was for me to check a urine sugar with a Tes-Tape - and I found that to be particularly repulsive. The lab could run a blood glucose, but that was quite expensive and involved getting "stuck," which was another less-than-favorite activity of mine.
When I was diagnosed with diabetes I was given many instructions regarding my future. My doctors said any major physical activity was frowned upon, because it would cause my blood sugar to fluctuate. Walking was OK, but anything involving great aerobic activity was not good. Marriage was OK, but having children was VERY DIFFICULT and frowned upon. Those were the first of many warnings I received throughout my lifetime, none of which I allowed to slow me down.
In 1964, diabetes education consisted of hospitalizing a patient (no matter their age), giving them a book on diabetes that they were to read, as well as an orange, a syringe and a bottle of sterilized saline. I was in the hospital for a week while they taught me to give myself shots and regulated me. And I read A LOT. But the first episode of hypoglycemia, plus the reading I had done about it, frightened me completely. The book said death could be the ultimate result if it was not recognized and treated immediately. This terrified me.
My First Experiences with Diabetes
Upon hospital dismissal, I began the longest journey of my life. My father was a severe alcoholic and my mother was completely co-dependent, so neither were emotionally or physically equipped to deal with a teenager with type 1 diabetes. Time rolled along, and to this day when I look back, I have NO idea how I survived my childhood. If I didn't feel well, my mom fed me regardless of any of the other symptoms. My dad was totally clueless as to what to do. As I said, I was repulsed at having to do urine sugars, so I learned to make my charts my doctor used to adjust my treatment the night before I went in. I arbitrarily put down numbers, he congratulated me for doing such a good job, then adjusted my insulin and off I went for another 4-6 months. How I avoided MANY serious insulin reactions is beyond me. I never carried extra nourishment with me, but fortunately never seemed to need it when I was away from home.
I made it through high school and then went to college at a small, nearby college, so familiar medical care was available. During this time, I also became a very avid water skier. My cousins and I skied every summer day that our lake was open to skiers, usually four days a week. I would eat something before going out on the boat, but we would be gone for hours at a time and I never carried anything extra along to eat if my blood sugar dropped. I began to decide that the people who told me not to do physical activities were crazy because I got along fine.
Starting a Family with Diabetes
I also met my future husband at college and got married after we graduated in May 1972. We moved to Houston while my husband finished his optometric schooling. I worked as a medical technologist and life was smooth. One advantage of this employment was that I had access to the latest medical supplies and could check my blood glucose whenever I wanted. I began self-testing way before it was invented as a method of patient self-care! I had a few significant hypo reactions, but not too many.
We moved back to Kansas two years later and settled in Chanute, KS, and shortly after decided to begin our family. My first pregnancy was rocky and I was hospitalized for a month at the end, but we produced a healthy (after a short five days in NICU) 10-pound, 10-ounce baby boy. Two years later we were not quite so lucky. I gave birth to an 11-pound, 9-ounce boy who was soon diagnosed with having a fatal three-chambered heart. When the fetal artery closed off, he would pass away.
Not knowing this yet, he was air-lifted to a Kansas City hospital, because my local doctor was worried he was not breathing correctly. At this time, air-lifts were a very rare occurrence, especially in a smaller town. The local newspaper did an article about it with a front-page picture of my baby in his isolette being transferred into the helicopter. The accompanying story stated that this was a child of a “diabetic mother” and mentioned that often diabetic mothers had children with health issues. I was totally devastated and took on all the guilt for this tragedy. My doctors all told me we should not have any more children unless we adopted them.
Not Giving Up
Two years passed and my diabetes had been under very good control, so the doctors determined we could try to conceive one more time. Soon I was pregnant again. Much to my doctor’s despair, at three months they determined I was carrying twins! For the most part, this pregnancy was uneventful and we had two identical girls. I was SO proud of my family. I nursed all of my children, against the advisement of my physicians at the time. They thought I could not possibly produce enough milk, especially to feed two growing infants simultaneously. I did. And at six months, I started them on purchased and table food and continued to nurse them until they were 10 months, at which time they were weaned to cups. That was another challenge conquered - and to the better health of the babies.
Stay tuned for part two of my story to learn about the obstacles I overcame to become the first U.S. Female Powered Parachute Sport Pilot! What in the world is a Powered Parachute Sport Pilot you may be thinking…check back on Wednesday and find out!