NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Nacogdoches native Levi Stovall has learned firsthand the risk, and lifestyle changes that come with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
Although type 1 only accounts for 5 percent of the total diabetes diagnoses in the United States, if untreated it can be life- threatening.
"I can kind of remember the isolated times when I thought about type 1 diabetes before I had it, and found out what it really was," Stovall said. "And I remember thinking, 'Oh, that sounds terrible, you have to use needles on yourself,' but that was not even the crux of the issues."
It wasn't until after his health was compromised last year with a terrifying diagnosis, that he would fully understand the responsibility that would come with being type 1 diabetic.
"Diabetes was not even on my radar," Stovall said. "The first few months were a lot of adjustment all at once. I was learning that things were going to have to be more structured and planned."
Stovall was a student at the University of Texas in Austin when he began to experience changes in his body over a month's span.
"Some of the things I began to notice were the weight loss, even though I was eating more than I normally would," Stovall said. "I lost the color of my skin, I started experiencing skin issues, and muscle cramps."
Other symptoms included frequent urination, blurry vision, and extreme thirst. He said these were all signs pointing to the seriousness of the situation.
He was hospitalized for more than three days, while doctors began to search for the root of the problem.
His story of the months to follow explain that the diagnosis was more than just a finger prick, but a complete restructuring of his life as he knew it.
"Your body has an inappropriate autoimmune response to the cells that are responsible for manufacturing insulin," Stovall explained.
Insulin is responsible for allowing glucose to move through your blood stream to muscles and organs, which need it for energy. It's different than the more common type 2 diabetes often linked to an unhealthy lifestyle.
This autoimmune disease was a discovery that affected not only Levi, but everyone around him. His girlfriend, Grace Garrigan, who was through his side during the worst of his journey, has now become an advocate for diabetes awareness.
"Having type 1 diabetes is a 24/7 job, one in which Levi has to manually operate the functions of a major organ as his pancreas has died, Garrigan said. "There is no cure, but instead you must be constantly aware of what you're eating, how it will affect your body, and treat it with insulin injections just to stay alive."
Levi has to inject himself with insulin four times a day and prick his finger up to 11 times a day to do something a normal body does without skipping a beat.
Levi's sister Jesse said the day she found out, the only word to describe how she felt was shock.
"I mean, it was my brother. It was just weird, because you always think of it happening to someone else, but now someone else is us," Jesse said. "I would say it really opened our eyes to how the body functions, and we all began changing our lifestyle out of solidarity."
His entire family researches the facts, risks, and complications that can come with living with type 1 diabetes.
"My mom is reading a lot more books like 'Think Like a Pancreas'," Jesse joked. "I haven't really had time to pick that up, but overall, it's been enlightening."
With a smile and a sense of humor, this family supports Levi, knowing that each day presents new challenges. Levi said due to the nature of the disease, mistakes are almost guaranteed.
"Regardless of how careful you are, you can't get it right every time," Levi said. "When you don't get it right, and you don't know why you didn't get it right, that feeling is confounding."
He said the first-time reality showed the seriousness of the condition was when he recorded low blood sugar. He said it put in perspective how important it is to be aware of his body, how it reacts to food, and how to treat this now life-long deficiency.
When he does make mistakes, he said he doesn't allow the failures to discourage him, but become a learning experience to make him healthier in the future.
When asked what's like to survive living with type 1 Diabetes, he said he chooses to look at things a little differently.
"Rather than surviving an ordeal its more of an adjustment that will become a constant in your life," Levi said.
Many people die from this disease because symptoms aren't well known. If you or a loved one is experiencing weight loss, fatigue, headaches, extreme thirst, frequent urination or blurry vision, Levi says please get a simple finger prick test; it could save a life. There's no cure for type 1 diabetes, but awareness is the first step to finding a solution.