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Victoria’s story: Turning obstacles into blessings
Images courtesy of Victoria Ekstrand
My name is Victoria Ekstrand, and I’m a 23-year-old pediatric and women’s services registered nurse. I was diagnosed with type 1, or juvenile, diabetes (T1D) in the summer of 1998 at 3 years old, forever changing the lives of my family. T1D is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes beta cell destruction in the pancreas. These cells are responsible for producing the hormone insulin, which allows glucose from food to be converted into energy or stored for future use. T1D is not preventable. It has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle choices. It’s also deadly if left untreated. There’s no cure, and the only treatment involves taking insulin, either through a pump or with injections.
Immediately after I was diagnosed, I was transferred to the care of Texas Children’s Hospital with their Diabetes and Endocrine team. This group of providers spent countless hours teaching my family how to manage my condition, all while teaching me how to take care of myself as I grew older. These lessons included counting carbohydrates, calculating insulin dosages, learning how to check my blood glucose, giving injections, using an insulin pump, emergency treatment for low and high blood sugars and so much more. The most important post-diagnosis moment for my parents was when my care team emphatically told them I would be able to live a completely normal life, despite this major adjustment. This gave them comfort in a devastating time.
Though this was difficult to see from my point-of-view at the time, those nurses and physicians were correct. By the time I was 5, I already knew how to check my own blood glucose. As I grew even older, I was able to administer my own injections and eventually learned how to insert my own insulin pump infusion sites. I participated in sports, music, advanced placement classes and tons of community service. I progressively grew into my independence, all thanks to my family and medical team.
When I was little, Dr. Morey Haymond asked me an important question during every visit: “Who is your doctor?” As a young child, I always answered, “You are!” He would reply, “No, you’re always your own doctor first.” This is the most important lesson I’ve learned while under his and Dr. Tracy Patel’s care. They both emphasized the significance of advocating for myself, knowing my own needs best and becoming completely capable of caring for myself. When I finished my undergraduate studies, it came time to transition to an adult endocrinologist. Dr. Patel guided me in this search and decision, giving me lots of valuable advice about living an adult life with this disease. My final appointment ended in tears for Dr. Patel, my mother and I. They were some of the happiest tears I’ve ever cried. Even though I knew I would miss my Texas Children’s team immensely, I also knew how blessed I was to have them from diagnosis through college, properly training me to care for myself and live an extraordinary life.
I chose to pursue nursing during my time at The University of Texas at Austin because I was so positively affected by the physicians and nurses in my own life. I felt as if I could relate to patients since I was a patient my entire life. I received my bachelor’s degree in nursing last year. For the long-term, perhaps I will become a Certified Diabetes Educator or nurse practitioner for pediatric endocrine patients. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
This upcoming May, I’m getting married to the greatest blessing in my life – Christopher Wright. Chris and I met when we were 5 and 6 years old through our mothers. They were in a group called MOD (mothers of diabetics) Moms in Katy, Texas. That’s right – Chris and I both have T1D. We were lifelong friends, volunteering together every summer at Camp Rainbow, an American Diabetes Association® event for T1D children. We were both patients at Texas Children’s. We also both wear the Omnipod® System insulin pump and Dexcom® continuous glucose monitor. There are lots of unique jokes around here! Toward the end of college, our relationship changed into something greater. Although we’ll run into some unique challenges with us both having this disease, we look forward to advocating for T1D patients, raising a family and continuing to live as we always have. He’s finishing his electrical engineering degree from Texas A&M University in May, right before our wedding.
I’m forever indebted to and grateful for my parents, sisters, Dr. Patel, Dr. Haymond and all of the clinical staff I’ve met over the years at Texas Children’s. They allowed me to become everything I dreamed of when I was little: healthy, educated, well-traveled, an animal lover, soon-to-be wife and, someday, mother. Life with T1D can be difficult and frustrating, as it’s a 24/7/365 disease. However, being a type 1 diabetic led me to some of the most wonderful people, amazing experiences and my future husband. I’ve learned what really matters in life. I always tell people, it’s my greatest blessing in disguise.
Victoria Ekstrand currently resides in College Station, Texas, where she’s working as a registered nurse and taking graduate courses. She lives with her dog, Kramer, and her cat Loki. Victoria and Christopher are always open to questions. They love reaching out to newly-diagnosed diabetics and enjoy service opportunities. If you have any comments or questions for them, feel free to reach Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in learning more about Diabetes and Endocrinology at Texas Children’s, click here.