Health Hero Jeanie Seashore Doesn't Let Diabetes Slow Her Down
Jeanie Seashore was a strong and active 38-year-old when she was diagnosed with diabetes. She fit the profile of neither the typical type 1 diabetes patient—a child or teenager—nor the average type 2 patient—overweight and older.
How Symptoms Began
Even though more than two decades have passed since Seashore began experiencing symptoms, she remembers the details quite clearly: "I was driving and suddenly passed out without warning, and I had other startling effects I couldn't understand, like shakiness while exercising, having to stop and eat energy bars to ride up hills on my bike, and having an enormous appetite and rapid weight loss," she recalls.
Yet when she went to the doctor, he missed the diagnosis. "Two years went by with some pretty crazy ups and downs before an emergency room doctor finally ran a blood test due to an infection that wouldn't clear up. He was the one who diagnosed me," she says.
An Unusual Form of the Disease
Seashore's diagnosis may have been delayed in part because she has a little-known type of diabetes called LADA, or Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults.
LADA is an autoimmune disease in which an individual's immune system begins to attack insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It is different from both type 1 diabetes, in which patients don't produce insulin, and type 2, in which the hormone isn't used effectively.
LADA is often misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes, possibly because it typically occurs later in life and progresses more slowly than most type 1 diabetes cases. And like many type 2 diabetes patients, most people with LADA don't need insulin treatment immediately, though it's usually required within a few years. Since LADA shares characteristics with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, it is often referred to as type 1.5 diabetes. About 10 percent of diabetes patients are estimated to have LADA.
LADA can be identified by the presence of autoantibodies (a type of protein) in the blood; these auto-antibodies are produced by the immune system to attack cells in the pancreas.This differentiates LADA from type 2 diabetes.
The diagnosis was a shock to Seashore, and she worried that her extremely active lifestyle would have to change. But instead, she learned how to manage the condition so she can continue living life to the fullest.
Dealing With Diabetes
Of course, this hasn’t been without challenges for the 58-year-old Seashore, who lives in Santa Barbara, CA., and works for an ophthalmologist. "These days, everything I do takes extra planning and consideration. I have to think about where I'm going and what the temperature will be," because the insulin she carries to use as part of her treatment regimen should be kept between 56° and 80° F. "I also carry fast-acting carbs to bring glucose [blood sugar] levels up when I backpack, hike, or travel anywhere," she says. When a person’s blood sugar drops to 70 or less, nutritionists recommend consuming 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate such as 4 glucose tablets, 15 grams of glucose gel, 4 ounces of fruit juice or regular soda, a small container of raisins, a tablespoon of table sugar, or 6 hard candies.
Putting Technological Advances to Work
Seashore also relies on the latest technology to help stay on top of her condition. "The changes in the medical world around diabetes are huge," she says. For instance, she uses a product called a Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) System, which consists of a small sensor that is inserted under the skin to read her blood glucose levels every five minutes. This device sends updates to her smartphone so she can track trends in her blood sugar levels.
"When the Dexcom CGM System came on the market, it was the biggest game changer," she says. "Consider that before Dexcom, I took my glucose test and knew what my reading was at that particular moment, but I had no idea if I was going up or down. Now I have a device that has an arrow showing the trend and direction I'm heading, so before I'm in trouble I can make an adjustment to stay in range.
"I also use a pump with fast-acting insulin that is set up for my personal needs, always giving me small doses of insulin throughout the day and night. I can add more for meals and when I need to counter a high. I can also turn off the insulin for high-energy activities so I don't go low. It’s quite a science, but one that is saving lives and creating a future that is quite different from those who have suffered from this disease in the past."
Staying Active and Exploring Nature
With such a reliable routine in place, Seashore can engage in the activities she enjoys the most. For instance, Seashore recently made a 6-week, 550-mile pilgrimage across Europe. She has also hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, rode more than 500 miles in the AIDS bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day two years in a row; she’s also been to Sri Lanka, Europe, Costa Rica, and Bali, hiking through jungles, zip lining, sky diving, and white-water river rafting, all while successfully managing her diabetes.
Advice for Others with Diabetes
Keri Leone, MS, RD, CDE, a San Diego-based certified diabetes educator who is affiliated with Dexcom, says that other people can follow in Seashore’s footsteps.
"For a true diagnosis of LADA, you’ll need to have your doctor do a blood test to identify if there are auto-antibodies present in the blood," she says. "If LADA is diagnosed early, insulin treatment may not be necessary for several months, which is the biggest difference from type 1 diabetes, where insulin initiation is required immediately after diagnosis."
She points out that although the onset and advancement of this autoimmune disease are slow, "it will evolve over time from not needing any insulin to requiring an intensive insulin regimen. Therefore, I would advise LADA patients to be proactive and work with their physician or diabetes educator on a regular basis to keep ahead of the progression of the disease and to ensure they are on the right track with their therapy."
Also remember that, as Seashore demonstrates, you can take control of your condition and continue to live the life you want to lead.
Keri J. Leone, MS, RD, CDE, reviewed this article.
Seashore, Jeanie. Email interview, March 6, 2016.
Leone, Keri, MS, RD, CDE, Certified Diabetes Educator, Dexcom. Email interview, March 6, 2016.
Gebel, Erika PhD. "The Other Diabetes: LADA, or 1.5." Diabetes Forecast May 2010.
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