Going Blind at the Age of 25 Led Me to True Vision

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As part of #NationalDiabetesAwarenessMonth we want to share some of our chapter members’ stories about their life with T1D. We want to raise awareness of the seriousness of type 1 diabetes, while also recognizing the good that comes out of it.

In this blog post, we’re hearing from Katelyn Wackerman, a 26 year old from North Charlotte, who lost her eyesight due to having type 1 diabetes. Here’s a look at her journey from losing her eye sight to experiencing happiness and support.

My name is Katelyn, you can call me Kate. I am 26 years old and live in North Carolina about 10 miles north of Charlotte. I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at 9 years old. From the age of 9 to 17 I was managing well with the help of my parents and health insurance. However, at the young age of 17 I lost my health insurance. This resulted in emergency room visits, getting a 1 time prescription for my insulin, spending hundreds of dollars at the pharmacy, and rationing my insulin. After collecting thousands and thousands of dollars in medical debt, I ended up getting supplies from other helpful T1Ds. Did you know that one box of insulin pens at the time was $600? I was spending over 1200 dollars a month on insulin, on top of rent, a car payment, insurance, groceries, and the list goes on! I was only 19 years old at the time, and was working as a server at a restaurant learning how to manage my money and balance T1D.

“After years of this, I basically rationed my insulin to the point of possible death.”

I never told anyone how bad my body was hurting. I was drained every day. From working a full time job of being on my feet all day and night, to not getting the proper nutrition, not enough insulin, and feeding my body caffeine to keep my eyes open. My legs down to my feet would swell so bad, you could make an indention in them. This was because my kidneys were struggling to filter correctly. I had been in and out of DKA (Diabetic Keto Acidosis), and spent many times in the emergency room. My problem was that I was so stressed over so much, I would just ignore the problems and hope something would magically change, or that they would disappear. My mindset was the famous, “God wouldn’t let that happen to me.” I thought I was invincible. After being denied free clinics and Medicaid, I gave up. I didn’t believe there was much of a purpose or a future for myself, and if death was going to come early, then so be it.

I moved to Florida when I was 25. After living there for only a year, my retina detached in my right eye. It happened over night, I knew I had vision problems but I didn’t realize how bad they were until I met my doctor. He sat me down in a dark room after examining both of my eyes. He told me he needed to have 2 conversations with me. The first being serious and the other being hopeful. He told me that he was going to have to do surgery to reconnect my retina, but he doesn’t promise I will regain any vision out of that eye. He said that my left eye was holding on by a thread and I would go blind in both eyes by the end of the year. But, he also told me I have time on my side because I am young. I could have the chance to turn this around but it had to start right then and there. He recommended I move home and be with my family and those who can offer help and support.

A month after moving back to Charlotte, I lost complete vision in my left eye. At this point I was legally blind, diagnosed with Gastroparesis, miserable, depressed, and at the lowest point I have ever experienced. The month before I turned 26, I remembered praying while going into my 2 eye surgery, “God, please don’t wake me up this time. If this is what my life is supposed to be, I don’t want it anymore.” After countless doctor visits, 3 eye surgeries and more on the way, seeking therapy, and drowning in medical debt, I just felt lost.

However, recently I decided living in pity, in a dark, sad world is not who I am. My job is to bring light to the dark, wherever it may be. I reached out to people in the community, started volunteering with JDRF, and I even applied to be an advocate to change laws affording insulin. One day I just woke up. I decided if this was going to be my life, it was for a reason.

“I decided if this was going to be my life, it was for a reason.”

I learned about giving up control and power. I learned how to accept change, and life as it comes our way. I gained strength and courage. I learned what it means to commit, and be open. Most importantly, I learned how to let go. Let go of my past, my job, my old friends, my old goals, my old love, and entirely my old life. I learned to take accountability for my choices, and I learned what it feels like to forgive. I think it took me the longest to forgive myself. If I had only put myself first, if I hadn’t ignored those red flags, if I had only kept trying. I think failure is a true blessing. If I hadn’t failed myself, I wouldn’t have the wisdom I do now. I learned how to respect myself, and I gained a true sense of identity. I thought I knew who I was, but I lost myself somewhere along the way, and it showed by not taking care of my own self.

I now take pride in who I am. I take care of my body by eating all natural foods, and staying consistent on a well-balanced diet. I make sure I am exercising daily, as much as some days I dread it. Water has become by bestfriend. Now, I feel AMAZING! I started hanging around genuine, healthy, and uplifting people. I put the dating aside, so I can put my life back in order. I learned a healthy balance between fun and work. I’ve picked up healthy habits and hobbies, such as juicing, boxing classes, and visiting local farmers markets.

I started to use my free time wisely. I haven’t worked in over a year, and it can be hard to motivate yourself, especially when you don’t feel needed. Although, I am still under going eye surgeries and I am still legally blind, I have been working on my blog, applying for part time jobs, and preparing myself for this next chapter of my life.

My goal is for my story to be heard in hopes to help others prevent the life I lived. I hope to change laws one day regarding insulin affordability.

“I hope to change laws one day regarding insulin affordability.”

I want to help people become the best versions of themselves.  I want to guide and influence others to take care of their body and health. I want to use my struggles and turn them into lessons for others. I hope to spread positive light for others, and push people to accomplish their goals. It only takes one person to inspire another, and cause a chain effect. I truly believe this was meant to happen to me, not only for the lessons, but to bring good things.

Our chapter is truly grateful to have such an amazing and inspiring volunteer in our office! We are so thankful to know you Kate and know you will go out there and help inspire others with your story and help us push for insulin affordability!

Want to follow along Kate with her journey? Read her personal blog!