It started with extreme exhaustion, then intense dehydration kicked in. Seven-year-old Camille Andre would drink tons of water, but it would just flow through her without an effect. When her mother took her to the hospital, she was already having difficulty swallowing food without drinking liquid.
The doctors told her parents that diabetes was the problem.
Diabetes, medically referred to as diabetes mellitus, is a metabolic disorder in which a person has constantly high levels of blood glucose (blood sugar). Due to the body’s inability to properly use or adequately produce insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that enables our cells to absorb glucose from our blood, sugar accumulates in the blood, resulting in hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.
Now a second-year biochemistry and molecular biology major at UC Davis, Andre still remembers the moments leading up to her diabetes diagnosis.
“That day for snack, we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and I couldn’t swallow without drinking milk or water because my mouth was so dry,” Andre recalled. “We went in [the hospital] late [in the] evening, and on my way home, we stopped at the store and all I was craving was a grapefruit and watermelon Gatorade.”
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and students across UC Davis have strived hard to raise awareness amidst their continuous combat against diabetes.
Andre joined the Diabetes Advocacy & Awareness Group (DAAG) after her start at UC Davis. The club was formed in 2009 by a group of seven friends who were concerned about the growing diabetes epidemic.
Now consisting of four key members, DAAG strives to raise diabetes awareness around campus and the Davis community through education. They have previously given educational presentations at various student-run clinics in Davis and also for first-year students in the residence halls.
DAAG vice-president Kenny Nguyen, a third-year psychology major, said there are many misconceptions about diabetes that serve as the group’s major hurdle when promoting diabetes awareness.
“People [say], ‘I am skinny, I am not fat, I can’t get diabetes, why should I know about diabetes?’” Nguyen said. “The common misconception about [Type 2 diabetes] is ‘I am exercising, I am eating well, I am not at risk.’ Everyone is at risk. Just because you are exercising all the time doesn’t mean you don’t have diabetes.”
One of the DAAG’s major projects is to give presentations about healthy living several times a quarter to local elementary schools in Davis, Sacramento and Dixon, such as Holmes Jr. High and Birch Lane Elementary Schools.
“One of our models is living healthy, living active and [taking steps toward] prevention. I feel educating kids at a young age is a big, big step towards prevention,” Nguyen said. “Giving the presentation [and] knowing that you have an impact on 60 little kids’ lives — that by itself is a very special moment.”
Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2010. There are now 387 million people living with diabetes worldwide, which is one out of 12 people. As of 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or one out of 11 Americans, have diabetes — 12.8 percent up from 25.8 million in 2010.
If current trends continue, the Center for Disease Control predicts one-third of the U.S. will be diabetic by the year 2050.
In addition to disproportionate thirst and increased fatigue, many diabetes patients face intense hunger, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision and slow-healing cuts and bruises.
“I remember when in the morning I woke up [after my first treatment], I felt so much better. I didn’t even realize how terrible I felt before because it was progressive,” Andre said. “My blood sugar [had been] slowly increasing.”
Andre’s life has changed dramatically since her diagnosis.
“I have to know the amount of carbohydrates in everything I am eating, also how much fat and protein. All these things come into effect,” Andre said. “People don’t realize how many factors go into your blood sugar and how hard it is to keep it stable.”
Andre suffers from type one diabetes, wherein the body cannot produce insulin because its immune system mistakenly destroys areas of the pancreas that produce insulin. It is considered to be genetic and is mostly diagnosed in children and young adults.
Over 95 percent of diagnosed diabetes cases are of Type 2 diabetes, wherein the body develops insulin resistance. This type of diabetes can be prevented, regulated and eventually cured if patients live a healthy lifestyle.
“I know my life would be drastically different if I didn’t have diabetes,” Andre said. “Since life with diabetes is the only life I know, it’s kind of something I [have] accepted the way it is.”
As the DAAG’s support group and outreach coordinator, Andre founded the Diabetes Type 1 Support Group during Winter Quarter 2014 to exchange ideas, share experiences and offer support to other students with diabetes. The support group now consists of 15 members and meetings are regularly held.
DAAG’s upcoming fundraising project will be a 5K fun run, held in January, to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. The group will be also be tabling at the Wellness Carnival in the ARC Ballroom today, which is hosted by Student Health and Counseling Services.
DAAG’s president and fourth-year evolutionary anthropology major Ashley Wu, has dealt with diabetes personally, as her father suffers from the disorder. For Wu, educating the Davis community is really important for diabetes prevention.
“I was really surprised when I gave one of my first presentations in one of the elementary schools in Dixon. As a kid I didn’t know about diabetes, so I was expecting the kids not to know anything,” Wu said. “But as we [did] the presentation, one of the first questions we asked was who knows someone who has diabetes. Almost everyone in the classroom raised their hands.”
Ultimately the group’s goal is to spread the idea that healthy eating and living actively can go a long way.
“It’s like the ripple effect and the domino effect,” Wu said. “As long as someone knows, they will hopefully teach someone else.”
Graphic by Tiffany Choi