WASHINGTON POST: Life, Death and Insulin

By Tiffany Stanley

At first, it seemed like the stomach flu. Weeks before his 24th birthday in May 2015, Alec Raeshawn Smith was overcome by troubling symptoms. His body ached, his stomach hurt and he wasn’t sleeping well. Laine Lu, a co-worker at his restaurant job, urged him to see a doctor. “This is not normal,” she recalls telling him. “Go get checked out.” His mother, Nicole Smith-Holt, worried too. He called her when he decided to go to a health clinic near Minneapolis. He said, “Seriously, Mom, I think something is really wrong with me.”

The diagnosis was surprising: Type 1 diabetes. Alec’s blood sugar levels were nearly twice the healthy limit. His family didn’t have a history of diabetes, and lanky, 6-foot-3 Alec looked like the picture of health. At 23, he seemed too old for Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes because it often strikes children. But as Alec discovered, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune response that can appear at any age. It is not preventable, and there is no known cure.

At the clinic, a nurse practitioner discussed the potential complications of the chronic disease, including blindness, nerve damage, and kidney and heart problems, according to medical records. Alec came home with prescriptions for two kinds of insulin: One was long-acting; the other gave him short bursts before meals. He wrote on Facebook: “Today a lot has changed. … I would never wish this upon anybody. So whoever reads this take care of yourself.”

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