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.
In part one of my story, I discussed my diagnosis and early experiences with diabetes. I had some amazing highs and some tragic lows, such as the death of my middle child, which continued to torture me. Combined with my fanaticism of my blood sugars, weight, A1Cs, exercise, as well as all of the depression created during my childhood, I slowly slipped into the grip of bulimia. I was busy exercising to maintain my weight, however, I began exercising when it was ill advised and had extreme lows. Of course none of this was shared with my family. I felt this would prove that I was a bad person, because I couldn't get my diabetes under control. After one particularly bad reaction, we all determined our family was in trouble, in a crisis actually. The group of people I loved so much and was so proud of…I was jeopardizing their lives.
I went into in-patient treatment for my eating disorder. I maintained I did not make myself vomit so how could I have bulimia? But I was told that the extreme exercise I was doing was considered purging and I was hospitalized for four weeks. As time rolled on, I ended up being hospitalized two more times before I got a handle on it. In retrospect, I will add that I have found that eating disorders can be fairly common in people with diabetes. The extreme attention paid to the numbers of weight, insulin units, calories, carbs, fats, A1Cs, blood sugar values and other test numbers can definitely play a role in this. Then add in a troubled childhood, depression and guilt, and it becomes a volatile mixture just waiting to blow.
Continuing to Fight On
During this passage of time, I became interested in running. But it seemed I had NO idea how to handle my blood sugars during this time. But I tried to do it, managing to the best of my abilities. This became my pattern and I watched my numbers vociferously to avoid hypoglycemia attacks.
Shortly after I started running, I developed a very rare autoimmune disease, transverse myelitis, and was unable to keep my balance, among many other serious symptoms. I was told I’d never run, or possibly even walk, again. I began a grueling course of physical therapy and was taught how to walk all over again. I then began to try to run again.
I continued therapy for quite some time, and at a point, my twin daughters challenged me to do a half-marathon. We planned to do it approximately a year after my transverse myelitis diagnosis and 40 years after my diabetes diagnosis. We did it. And it was one of those fabulous happenings that you could never, ever imagine happening to you. An article was placed in the race program info., and as we ran, many people knew we were a mom and twin daughters and that I had had some severe medical afflictions. It was one of my "bucket list" events for sure.
Taking on a New Challenge with Diabetes
My husband and I also became interested in purchasing and flying a powered parachute (PPC). A PPC is a powered parachute plane, used primarily for flying enjoyment rather than transportation. This plane has two major sections: a cart, resembling a very large tricycle with a box fan attached to the back, and a parachute which is attached and serves as a wing to the plane. While on the ground, a pilot will face the plane directly into the wind for take-off and apply throttle. The resulting wind will kite the chute and as the chute rises it will lift the PPC off the ground. The pilot has the ability to steer the PPC with his legs by applying pressure to the steering bars and the throttle determines ground speed and altitude once it takes off.
I was interested in it, but was very happy riding in the backseat with him. He persisted that I should learn to fly also - and eventually I did. I really began to love flying as much as my husband did and we were one of the few couples flying PPCs in the state. When I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, I assumed I would be selling my plane and was saddened by this. But after weeks and weeks of physical therapy, my husband heartily encouraged me to try flying again. After several turn-downs, I finally agreed and strapped myself in and took off. I experienced a LOT of pain in my back from the shingles that I had also gotten, concurrent with the transverse myelitis. I felt like I had someone stabbing me in the back with knives, but none-the-less I WAS FLYING! I was so excited, and as my husband says, "The rest is history."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was in the progress of shifting powered parachutes under their domain, as they had been somewhat uncontrolled up to that point. A new licensure, called the Sport Pilot License, was created by the FAA. It grouped a lot of more unusual flight-types all into one category, with different category designations. Our group was the Sport Pilot with a PPC designation. It required two written tests, an oral test, a plane examination for air worthiness and a flight test. It was a BIG CHANGE for everyone, as the instructors and testing facilities were few and far between. A male pilot from my state was designated as the "First US PPC Sport Pilot" and a few months later I followed as the corresponding "First Female US PPC Sport Pilot" in America. Again, something I never dared to dream would happen after the devastating transverse myelitis diagnosis and during the 42nd year of my life with diabetes.
My husband created the PPC Caravan and every summer or fall we would take off to a new portion of the United States to see and fly over. We were joined, at first, by several pilots we did not even know from different parts of the U.S. As this tradition continued, we became a roving family of PPC pilots going from state to state to fly in new areas. We began getting invitations to come to select states and fly over "their" areas. It was all-consuming for two people with jobs! Eventually last year, eight years after its inception, we flew in our 48th state! It was so exciting to have flown the entire continental United States. There were three other pilots that accomplished this feat also. We are the best of friends and great resources for plane information, when needed.
Come back later this week for my final post about celebrating my 50th anniversary with diabetes.