Courtney Lovell: An Everyday Diabetes Hero Who's Taking It One Day at a Time

The Lovells

| Aug 16, 2007

Courtney Lovell remembers vividly when her little sister, Marah, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. As the eldest in a family of seven children, Courtney was her mom's right hand.

So she went through the diabetes training at the hospital, and she was right there during Marah's teen rebellions and her angry days. She was there during the frightening midnight episodes of low blood sugar, frantically trying to avoid having to call the medics.

Marah always told them, "Shove down me whatever you have to, but don't let me go to the hospital." Courtney was always there, until the day that her sister, all grown up, died in a head-on accident during a low blood sugar while driving home from work.

These days Courtney is there for her own four children, ages fourteen, eleven, ten, and seven. Lydia, the outspoken and gregarious eleven-year-old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in January 2005. They'd been going back and forth to the doctor for four months, fruitlessly.

People had been commenting that Lydia seemed to want to "see the bathroom" everywhere they went, reminding Courtney of when people made that same comment about Marah. Her anxious feeling of impending doom grew heavier until one day, shocked by how bony her little girl had become, she tested Lydia's blood sugar with a borrowed meter.

It was over 450. For Courtney, it was almost a relief to finally know. Lydia wasn't the least bit fazed because she remembered helping Aunt Marah with her diabetes. And Courtney began again, this time as a mother, to be there.

A little over a year later, in May 2006, Trevor, Courtney's rambunctious seven-year-old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. "It seemed so unreal that it was happening again," she says, "that I walked around in a fog for a couple of weeks before the news finally sank in and the tears came." But she picked herself up and began again, taking care of one day at a time.

In January of this year, Priscilla, the sweet, quiet ten-year-old, started wetting the bed. Recalls Courtney, "I was confused, thinking she's kind of old for that, and then it just hit me. I thought, you know, I'm going to test her sugar. And the meter said 'high.' I thought, 'no, no, no!' So I washed her hands and we did it again, and it said 'high' again. I just called my husband and said, 'Honey, you're not going to believe this, but we have another one."

"I cried for a couple of minutes and then I said, 'Well, you know, we already have two of them, and better for us to have one more than a family who doesn't know how to deal with it. So I just took her to the hospital and said, 'It's us again.' They didn't even keep us there. They just said, 'You guys already know what to do,' and sent us home."

And what of Chris, Courtney's oldest child and the family intellectual? For the past six years, he's had progressive rheumatoid arthritis, a painful and progressive autoimmune disease of the joints for which he takes weekly injections, daily medication, and an extremely low dose of chemotherapy. And Courtney herself? She has Crohn's disease, another autoimmune condition that limits what she can eat to a very few easily digested foods. As she says, "We are an autoimmune family." They are also a deeply religious family; Courtney's husband is the local Baptist pastor. He's also the only one in the family who has been spared a disease of his own.

It's a full-time job for Courtney to be there for her four young children. "I keep everyone's papers all color-coded, and they all have their own shelf in our pantry," she says. "I wish that my children didn't have diabetes, but there have been so many medical advances, and they really do live as normal a life as any other kid. They just have to have insulin on the outside instead of on the inside. My husband and I are doing everything we can to instill good habits in them, so that when they live on their own, they keep the same things up. We're trying to keep their lives normal so that they realize, yes, I have diabetes, but it's not slowing me down. Everyone has something they have to deal with, and their's is diabetes."

Courtney's children bicker and fight like all siblings, but with a difference: "They share the bond of diabetes and know how each other feels. When one's having an 'I hate diabetes day,' the other two run to the rescue. I love to be able to sit on the sidelines and watch that. My kids are my heroes, because they're the ones who live with this disease every day, and I'm just honored to be able to help them through their life with it."

Courtney and her husband were recently sent on an overnight trip by their church, which undertook the care of their children for that one night. It was wonderful, says Courtney, but at the same time, she was worrying the whole time. She is a mother who needs to be there. She says, "I just like to know that everything's in order, and what's going on, and that everything's okay. If I want to poke someone's finger, I can." Because she checks her children every night, she never really gets a full night's sleep. She says, "I just kind of nudge them to see if they'll look at me and get annoyed. I know that if they're annoyed, they're okay."

Courtney is involved in a parent message board and is organizing a support group for the clinic in her area. She emails other mothers every day, and "we just kind of chat. If you have a bad day or you just want to hate diabetes together…sometimes we encourage each other or share ideas - just basically support.

It's a tough thing to deal with as a parent, and it is awesome to have someone who knows what it feels like." Courtney spends a lot of time talking with overwhelmed mothers of newly diagnosed children. She is often called by a friendly pediatric hospital nurse and asked to contact a devastated mother who's just gotten the news.

When that happens, she takes whichever of her three children is closest to that child in age, and off they go for a visit. Courtney says, "It's important for them to know, yes, it looks really bad, but tomorrow is going to be okay. Because you know what, my kids are running around, they're fussing and fighting and playing and riding their bikes, and it's going to be all right. That doesn't mean there'll never be a bad day, because there will, but it'll still be all right."

When talking to newly diagnosed families, Courtney says, "What I always try to present is that diabetes is a very manageable disease, and it's a life long disease, with the emphasis on life. How long and well our children live is really up to us, and if we encourage them to eat well and take care of themselves, they can be every bit as normal and as active as they were before they were diagnosed."

With regard to low blood sugars, however, the legacy of Courtney's sister's death makes staying positive very hard even for her. "It takes everything within me to keep my cool about low blood sugars," she says. "The older my own kids get, the more scared I am because [them getting] their driver's license is just around the corner. I don't care what the standard rule is, my kids are going to pull over and test every thirty minutes. That's their mother's rule."

"Yes, we as parents need to be aware of the negative stuff, but we shouldn't dwell on it because it just depresses us and it will depress them. We need to focus on taking care of today. Then, when we wake up tomorrow, we'll take care of that day. That's how we live. Although I'm looking toward the future, I am not going to dwell on it because then I become overwhelmed. I can't take care of everything because it's too much. I'm going to leave all that in God's hands, because He has told me that if I take care of today, He'll take care of tomorrow."

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Categories: Blood Sugar, Diabetes, Diabetes, Food, Heroes, Insulin, Kids & Teens, Personal Stories, Type 1 Issues


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Aug 16, 2007

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