By Gabby Christensen
At just eight years old, St. Edward High School senior Kenna Hellbusch received the life-altering diagnosis that she was type 1 diabetic.
Now, nearly 11 years later, Hellbusch is advocating for type 1 diabetes awareness.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition which develops due to inadequate production of insulin because of autoimmune reaction against the pancreas.
The condition affects approximately 1.25 million American children and adults, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Hellbusch’s own diagnosis came on April 13, 2009, after weeks of sickness.
Hellbusch vividly remembers the events leading up to her diagnosis—she was extremely thin, drinking fluids nonstop, having trouble learning in school and could no longer see well.
Hellbusch was initially tested for ADHD, which came back negative. She also received eye glasses to help with her vision, but to no avail.
Her blood work even came back normal.
Still, Hellbusch’s family knew something was definitely wrong.
“My brother, Tyler, just kept saying, ‘something is wrong with her, we’ve got to figure this out,’” Hellbusch said.
Finally, after multiple trips to the eye doctor and pediatrician, Hellbusch made a visit to her primary care physician who was able to diagnose her instantly.
The news came as a complete shock to the Hellbusch family.
“After a lot of hugging and crying, we were sent straight to the hospital to learn how to administer insulin shots,” Hellbusch said. “As a second grader, I actually thought I was going to die because it was called ‘die’abetes. I was very scared.”
While it was extremely difficult to come to terms with the news, Hellbusch said it was immediately apparent that she wouldn’t be fighting this battle alone—her family attended special classes to learn more about the condition and even learned how to administer insulin shots.
“At first, my family gave me all of my shots until I felt comfortable enough to do it alone,” Hellbusch said. “My mom would call the school each day to see what I would be eating for lunch so she could tell my older sister, Karli, who went to school with me, how many units of insulin I needed. Then, before I ate each day Karli would give me a shot.”
Soon, Hellbusch was able to administer her own shots.
Today, she gives herself a shot about every two hours and closely monitors her blood sugar levels throughout the day, administering insulin each time she eats.
Hellbusch said she notices when her blood sugar is getting low because she begins to feel faint or dizzy. When this happens, she usually drinks juice to raise her blood sugar levels.
As a precaution, she keeps juice next to her bed, in her car and in her school locker.
Recently, Hellbusch has also been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. In addition to monitoring her type 1 diabetes, she now must also take a daily pill and vitamin.
As a type 1 diabetic, Hellbusch must keep her health in mind at all times.
“I can’t really be carefree,” Hellbusch said. “I have to think about packing my insulin or needles every time I leave the house. Each time I eat, I have to give myself a shot. I constantly have to make sure my blood sugar levels are good. Insulin is like oxygen to me, I need it to survive.”
Despite various struggles, Hellbusch has remained optimistic.
She noted that a good support system has made all the difference.
“My family has been great and my school’s administration and students have been very supportive and understanding,” Hellbusch said.
A daughter of Jeff and Kay Hellbusch of St. Edward, 18-year-old Hellbusch was born and raised in St. Edward. She participates in volleyball, one-act and speech. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family and watching Grey’s Anatomy.
Overall, Hellbusch said she takes each day in stride and remains hopeful for the future.
She has plans to become a certified nursing assistant next spring and also plans to attend Central Community College in Columbus next fall, where she will pursue an associate’s degree in nursing.
“Having type 1 diabetes definitely pushed me to pursue nursing,” Hellbusch said. “I want to be able to help others.”
Hellbusch said she also wants to continue to advocate for type 1 diabetes awareness by being involved in events led by JDRF, an American nonprofit organization which funds type 1 diabetes research.
“Being a type 1 diabetic has completely changed my mind set in so many ways,” Hellbusch said. “In the end, it’s all about having a positive attitude and staying focused on moving forward. I just hope to educate people and bring awareness to this condition in hopes that someday there will be a cure.”
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of stories in honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month.
By Gabby Christensen