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Community Blog

Living (Successfully) with T1D

Authored by Melissa S. Kampmann
Posted on March 1, 2016
Filed under Community

Melissa Kampmann has been a Type 1 diabetic for 25 years; Makenna, her almost nine-year-old daughter, for about four years. It’s a misnomer that diabetes is hereditary, in fact it’s incredibly rare for a person that has diabetes to have a diabetic child. There was no family history in Melissa’s family, she was the first to ever be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by the body getting confused into thinking the pancreas is a foreign object thereby investing its energies into attacking it and killing it off. The pancreas is an important organ - it produces insulin, an essential hormone regulating the amount of glucose (or sugar) in a person’s blood. Type 1 diabetes is not caused by any lifestyle factors, it is simply the result of an immune system that has turned against the body.

Without a working pancreas, Type 1 diabetics have to control their blood sugars by administering insulin based on countless factors and counting carbohydrates. Both Melissa and Makenna administer their insulin through an insulin pump which is connected to a small plastic tube in their bodies. They both check their blood sugars by pricking their fingers with needles about 10 to 12 times a day and both wear something called a continuous blood glucose monitor in which a small wire is inserted under their skin which measures their blood sugar every five minutes.

But no matter how hard a diabetic tries, they can’t perfectly control their blood sugars; mainly because anything can set them off – hormones, sleep, weather, stress, food and illness. Melissa teases there could be a connection to the migrational patterns of monarch butterflies and blood sugar levels. Having too little blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and too much blood sugar (hyperglycemia) wreaks havoc on a body’s system and the swings can have long term deleterious effects. Most people assume that managing diabetes is as simple as eating healthy and taking a shot. Far from it. All Type 1 diabetics deal with hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia on a daily basis because of the numerous factors that play a role in blood sugars. A swing in either direction too far can result in seizure, coma and death. This is why Melissa and and her husband Kevin wake up every 2 hours to check blood sugars.

But to watch Melissa talk about diabetes, cope, and champion Makenna, her efforts appear effortless. It’s because Melissa and her family are working selflessly to make a positive impact through their involvement in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Melissa states, “we’re involved for three major reasons: the support of a community of other families dealing with diabetes, JDRF’s commitment to educate the public on the disease, and for their research to stop the complications related to the disease, improve treatments, and ultimately find a cure.” According to their Web site, JDRF is the leading global organization funding Type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. Their goal is to, “progressively remove the impact of T1D from people’s lives until we achieve a world without T1D.” Over 80% of their funds are used for research. In fact $98 million was invested in research in 2014. A good portion of the other 20% is dedicated to advocacy and education. Many people have not heard of JDRF because so little is spent on overhead and advertising. There are only two paid employees that cover the entire state of Wisconsin other than Milwaukee or Madison which is why it is crucial for JDRF to have volunteers.

Melissa has witnessed firsthand the impact JDRF has made. Over the last 25 years, the insulin has improved, the monitoring has improved, and the technology to administer insulin has improved drastically. Melissa participated in a clinical trial last year for an artificial pancreas. An artificial pancreas is a combination of current technologies which allows for the administration of insulin based on computer algorithms and without the human mind. Melissa states, “It was freedom from my disease for the first time in 25 years.” JDRF has been a major funder of the technology which should be available in the next year or two. Melissa says, “it will be as revolutionary as the discovery of insulin - I can’t wait for the day when I can disconnect from the disease that controls me 24 hours a day.”

Melissa and her family volunteer at the walks for JDRF and “Type 1 Days” (an event for kids with T1D). Melissa is also a JDRF advocate (she meets with elected officials to educate them on the need for funding of research) and is an active fundraiser. Melissa has also been a frequent speaker around the state at JDRF events. Melissa and Kevin host dinners for families who have had family members recently diagnosed with diabetes. She serves as a mentor for other mothers of type 1 diabetics. “No one can understand the life of a type 1 diabetic family unless they have been through it. I am so grateful that I can share my story with other families and give them hope for a great life for their child. Diabetic families lean on each other a lot.”

Melissa was recently featured in JDRF’s Annual Report.