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Shannon Koehle: Q&A - Miss Black U.S.A. 2007 And Diabetes Advocate Kalilah Allen-Harris

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When were you first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
I was diagnosed on February 10th, 1999. I was 14 years old. It was at Children's Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

What symptoms did you exhibit?
There was increased thirst. I woke up at least six or seven times a night to urinate. I lost close to 20 pounds in about a week. It seemed like the more I ate, the hungrier I got and the more I drank the thirstier I got. I also experienced extreme fatigue. The day I finally did go to see a physician, I could not physically get out of bed. I had to have help from my mom.

Had you heard of diabetes before your diagnosis?
Not really. I had heard of diabetes but I didn’t know anything about it and I didn’t know anyone with the disease. I had heard that if you get diabetes you get your leg amputated. So I didn’t have a lot of knowledge and I had to do a lot of research about the disease.

Did the diagnosis affect, either positively or negatively, relationships with friends and family?
At first, it was a negative impact because I didn’t want to be viewed as different or as a person with a disability. So I decided to hide it from my friends. But once I accepted it because it wasn’t going away, then it became a positive thing. I got to teach my friends. We bonded over it. They saw a vulnerable side of me. They got to help remind me monitor, estimating the carbohydrates. And they were excited to be a part of that. When I was excited because a new pump was coming out or a new technological advance, they got excited with me.

It definitely changed my lifestyle for the better. We had to make sure all the meals were compatible with the diet. I had to change not just what I eat but the way I think about eating so it was a process for all of us.

Did you always want to become a role model for those with type 1 diabetes?
I never really thought about it. I just knew that when I was that age, I said I wish I had someone to look up to. I wish I knew people doing good stuff that I could look forward to.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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