Diagnosed with T1D at the age of 13, Aidan Fernandez is about as well rounded as they come. Now 18, Aidan is graduating from Duncan U. Fletcher High School with above a 4.0 GPA. While maintaining his grades, he has lead the varsity baseball team, served as a counselor at the American Diabetes Association’s Camp JADA, coached youth sports, tutored students in math, and worked at the YMCA. Oh, did we mention he’s bilingual?
In short, Aidan is a force. He is an invaluable representative of the type 1 community and will undoubtedly add a great deal to the University of Florida, where he aspires to major in biomedical engineering...and one day become a pediatric endocrinologist.
Here, we share some of Aidan’s insights from his Every Step Counts Application. Congratulations, Aidan!
What advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed?
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong roller coaster of a disease that does not (yet) come with a cure. It is a constant struggle against the infinite factors that contribute to high and low blood sugar, and the serious consequences that they may result in. When I was diagnosed 5 years ago, diabetes seemed devastating and insurmountable. However, through my experiences over the years, I have learned to control diabetes, rather than let diabetes control me.
To anyone that is newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, hear me out: All of the scariest aspects of this disease will quickly become less intimidating. You will find your favorite spot to administer your insulin shots, and checking your blood sugar will become such an integral part of your daily routine that you might even forget that you did. You’ll become unbeatable at guessing the amount of carbohydrates in everyday foods and even better at correcting your blood sugar when your guesses happen to be a little off.
More importantly, you will learn that with type 1 diabetes, you don’t always get it right, and perfection will not always be enough. However, given time and perseverance, you will win each battle that diabetes puts in front of you. With each victory, you will learn the true meanings of resilience and responsibility, and eventually, you will even see type 1 diabetes as a benefit to your life, not a detriment.
You can’t (completely) control this disease, but with practice, each day gets a little bit easier. The demands of diabetes will one day become second nature, and instead of being a “diabetic,” you will become a person that simply happens to have diabetes.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of managing T1D as a young adult transitioning into fully independent care?
When you have type 1 diabetes, having a strong and stable support system is crucial to your wellbeing. Without support, the rough patches can make you feel helpless and encourage you to completely give in to the failures that come with it. I have been blessed with an incredible support system from the very beginning, yet as I transition into my adult life of independence and prepare to go to college, the toughest aspect will be losing the constant support that I once took for granted.
From day one, my siblings and friends learned the ins and outs of the disease and enabled themselves to assist me whenever I would need it. Countless doctors and professionals are constantly providing me with the best methods of dealing with any medical problems that I face. By connecting with other people with diabetes such as my nurse at the hospital or my favorite cousin, I have learned that I am not alone, and that type 1 diabetes is a battle that we can all fight together.
However, the support I will miss the most is from my mom. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, it felt as if we both were. She is the one who has lost countless hours of sleep either out of worry, or to check my blood sugar in the middle of the night so that I do not have to wake up high in the morning. My mom is my personal assistant, my personal therapist, and my backbone. She takes on many of the pressures of the disease for me so that my plate is never completely full. Because of my mom, I am able to stay positive and stay active in taking care of myself despite the difficulties that type one diabetes presents me.
Nobody is in range 100% of the time. What steps have you taken in the past to improve your T1D care? What do you do particularly well in your care and how can you improve? What steps will you take?
When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was deceived into thinking this disease would be simple to manage. The shots and finger pricks didn’t bother me, and the rest just came down to simple math formulas.
At first, I mastered my multiples of 15. My insulin ratio was 1 unit for every 15 carbs, and whenever my blood sugar was too low, I would need 15 carbs of something sweet, like Skittles. I followed the same routine every day, and followed everything that I learned in the hospital to the T.
Yet, I still found myself in situations of extremely high and low blood sugars. What I did not realize is that managing type 1 diabetes is not a perfect science, and that no formula can account for the infinite factors that impact blood sugars.
Instead of doing the same thing and hoping for changes, I took it upon myself to use my experiences to refine my care. With each high or low, I learned from the situation, and remembered for next time. I learned that brown rice affects me differently than white rice, and that my body breaks down sweets in half the time of other foods. I learned to account for the endless factors that affect my day-to-day numbers, such as adrenaline from a baseball game, stress from exam season, and even the occasional illness.
Type 1 diabetes will always be something more complex than any formula, and as I gather more experiences as a type 1 diabetic, I also gain more tools to manage this disease, and to live the healthiest life I possibly can.