Having T1D and COVID-19: “It Hit Me Hard”

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Justin Wilhite says being ill with COVID-19 was like nothing he’d experienced before, and would prefer to never, ever go through it again.

The “very healthy” 39-year-old father of three, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in 2008 has been ill for more than a month.

“It feels like something is attacking your lungs…inhaling and exhaling hurts all the time.”

The California resident said he wanted to speak to JDRF and members of the T1D community because he knows people are scared. “I was scared.” He hopes his story helps others.

He also is tweeting throughout his continued recovery, telling people to be cautious and to “listen to their bodies.”

Justin said he was likely sick for three weeks prior to being diagnosed, because that’s when his blood sugar levels “went wacky.” He said his levels would “spike during the day, then drop at night.” Even after a carbohydrate heavy dinner, “it was like I didn’t give myself any insulin at all.”

But otherwise, he felt healthy.

Then, on March 4, the headaches began. “I had a headache that never went away. And I would have lung pain—constant lung pain.”

He said every breath was painful and left him sleepless.

Justin sought medical attention at his local hospital after experiencing extreme shortness of breath, and almost passing out on the walk from his bedroom to the couch. After undergoing a battery of tests, including a screening ketones, which was negative, Justin was sent home and received his diagnosis of COVID-19 a few days later.

Even after returning home, he continued to struggle with shortness of breath. “I couldn’t walk 10 feet from my couch to the bed. It made it hard to do small things—standing up, getting dressed. And the fatigue was terrible. And that persisted for a full 29 days.”

While recovering, Justin said his blood-glucose levels were higher than normal, and he used nearly twice as much insulin.

Justin said he wants everyone to listen to the experts. “Keep heeding the warnings….if you are like me, you rarely get sick, but when you do, it hits you really hard. Be more vigilant than you normally are in trying to be healthy.

“This disease is out there now, it’s in the community. The more contact you have with people out and about running your errands, the more of a chance you have of getting it.”

He said getting COVID-19 has been humbling for two reasons: He’s appreciated the community’s support and being able to try and help others with T1D, who he knows are scared.

It’s also been humbling because “sometimes, when you think you are 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and you go up against something that is 10 feet tall and bulletproof, you realize how human you are.”

By Lisa Popyk