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Living life in spite of diabetes

PRINCETON — Living with diabetes has been a way of life for Patricia “Pat” Lee of Princeton for about as long as she can remember.

Lee was just 7 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, originally known as juvenile diabetes. She doesn’t remember a lot about those early days, other than being sick a lot and being tired. And, she remembers her mom teaching her how to give herself shots when she was about in the third grade, shortly before her mom died.

But Lee learned to live with diabetes and to not let it slow her down too much. After high school, she attended Millikin University and also the University of Madrid in Spain where she majored in Spanish. She did her graduate work at Northern Illinois University and also worked on a second master’s degree at Aurora University. She has been a school guidance counselor and also taught at two junior colleges.

Lee married her husband, Russ, in 1972. Russ said he and Pat actually met when they were babies, since they were born six days apart in the same hospital and at that time the moms and their newborns stayed in the hospital for 10 days. But for all intents and purposes, they reconnected when they were in junior high school and were married when Pat started working on her master’s degree.

The Lees have two children, a biological daughter and an adopted son, both now grown. Her pregnancy with her daughter was complicated because of Pat’s diabetes and having another biological child was not an option for her, she said.

The Lees have now retired, moving to Princeton in 2006 from St. Charles. But Pat’s diabetes continues to dictate much of how the couple spends their days with her low energy levels and numerous doctors’ appointments.

Today, Pat carries with her a six-page packet of her medical information, including the names and contact information of her doctors, the medicine she takes, the surgeries she’s had. That information needs to be with her at all time, wherever she goes, in case of an emergency, Russ said.

Through the years, Pat has had two heart attacks, five strokes, heart surgeries, eye surgeries, foot problems and a kidney transplant. Shortly after moving to Princeton, she had emergency brain surgery to remove a blood clot that had formed after she fell and hit her head on the kitchen floor. She takes multiple pills a day, keeping them organized in a multi-level pill container.

All of her medical problems can be traced back to her diabetes, Pat and Russ agree.

In telling her story, Pat said she hopes to encourage anyone who isn’t feeling well to go to the doctor and get checked out. It’s better to know what’s wrong and to start treatment than to wait and let things get worse, she said.

Russ agreed, saying there is always continuing advancements in medication and treatment in the medical field. His wife has already lived years beyond what was expected of her, and after all these years, she still has all her fingers and toes, he said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

A look at diabetes
• Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes and another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
• The American Diabetes Association estimates the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $174 billion.
• Diabetes mellitus, or simply, diabetes, is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body's ability to produce and/or use insulin.
• Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, which is a hormone needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
• Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. In Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.
• Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include frequent urination, unusual thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, and extreme fatigue and Irritability.
• Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include any of the Type 1 symptoms, as well as frequent infections, blurred vision, cuts/bruises that are slow to heal, tingling/numbness in the hands/feet, and reoccurring skin, gum or bladder infections.
• Often people with Type 2 diabetes have no symptoms, which is why it is important to take the American Diabetes Association's Online Diabetes Risk Test to find out if you are at risk for Type 2 diabetes.
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