Ukraini­ans talk about their lives with Type 1 di­a­betes

Kyiv Post - - Business Focus - BY JACK EVANS EVANSJWM@GMAIL.COM Anna Lavri­nenko

There are an es­ti­mated 1.38 mil­lion peo­ple with di­a­betes in Ukraine ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Di­a­betes Foun­da­tion and Di­a­betes At­las.

Up to 10 per­cent of them live with Type 1 di­a­betes. In this form of the dis­ease, the body doesn’t pro­duce enough in­sulin, the hor­mone that reg­u­lates blood sugar lev­els. There­fore, suf­fer­ers have to fol­low a healthy diet, ex­er­cise, mon­i­tor their blood glu­cose lev­els, carry in­sulin with them and reg­u­larly go through med­i­cal check-ups.

As World Di­a­betes Day on Nov. 14 ap­proaches, the Kyiv Post talked to four Ukraini­ans liv­ing with Type 1 di­a­betes.

Olena Po­gorelova,

Olena Po­gorelova be­lieves that life with di­a­betes has an un­usual ad­van­tage: It has im­proved her think­ing.

This is be­cause, she says, she’s “got used to an­a­lyz­ing, search­ing for causes and ef­fects, and de­tect­ing and feel­ing signs.”

It has also given her a deep un­der­stand­ing of food and nu­tri­tion. While for most non-di­a­bet­ics fruit, sal­ads, bread or wine are sim­ply food and drink, when she sees them her minds fills with thoughts of “healthy fats, pro­tein, and fiber, daily re­quire­ments, ab­sorp­tion times and their cor­re­la­tion to the time of day, and graphs and ra­tios.”

To keep her blood glu­cose lev­els sta­ble, she has to en­sure she doesn’t con­sume more sugar than her body can ab­sorb.

Mon­i­tor­ing and man­ag­ing this level re­quires her to take blood sam­ples and in­ject in­sulin sev­eral times a day.

“In­jec­tions and pricks with nee­dles are a part of me,” she says.

Ro­man Vlasenko,

Ro­man Vlasenko has lived with type 1 di­a­betes for 27 years and feels he too has ben­e­fited from the self-dis­ci­pline re­quired to man­age his dis­ease.

In­jec­tions, mea­sure­ments and dosages aside, he doesn’t think his daily rou­tine is that dif­fer­ent to an or­di­nary per­son’s. Th­ese mea­sures are “like brush­ing your teeth — they don’t take much time or ef­fort,” he says.

The stress of his work does how­ever some­times call for ex­tra blood sugar tests.

More­over, he in­cor­po­rates ex­er­cise into his day, rang­ing from cy­cling to sim­ply walk­ing, “to keep the di­a­betes un­der con­trol.”

Vlasenko also runs a club for chil­dren with di­a­betes. He’s proof of its mes­sage that “di­a­betes is just a way of life.”

“Does di­a­betes pre­vent peo­ple from be­ing suc­cess­ful and happy? As far as I’m con­cerned, it doesn’t”, he says.

Anna Lavri­nenko,

Since Anna Lavri­nenko was in preschool, her mother had to come to her daugh­ter’s kinder­garten ev­ery day, as the staff had no idea how to cater to her spe­cific needs. She would come and do blood glu­cose tests and ad­min­is­ter in­sulin her­self. Anna also had a spe­cial meal pre­pared for her at lunchtime.

Things didn’t get any eas­ier in ju­nior school: Her fel­low pupils didn’t un­der­stand her ill­ness, and called her a drug ad­dict for tak­ing blood sam­ples and in­ject­ing her­self. The teas­ing up­set her, Lavri­nenko says.

At the same time, her strug­gles with di­a­betes pro­vide her ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion to suc­ceed, she says.

“I want to be an ex­am­ple for oth­ers of how you can live a nor­mal life with di­a­betes. That's why I fig­ure skate, dance, sing, and act. I’m flu­ent in Pol­ish. I’m try­ing to de­velop in a num­ber of di­rec­tions”, she told the Kyiv Post.

And if a di­a­betes-friendly restau­rant ever opens in Kyiv, it may be Lavri­nenko’s.

“I dream of be­com­ing a fa­mous restau­ra­teur and open­ing a restau­rant for peo­ple with di­a­betes,” she says.

An­driy Sha­laev,

Ana­toliy Sha­laev, An­driy’s fa­ther, told the Kyiv Post that his son’s con­di­tion was di­ag­nosed when ear­lier this year he started to dis­play clas­sic signs of the dis­ease.

“He started to lose weight, tire quickly and drink lots of wa­ter”, his fa­ther said.

The young boy soon adapted to the strange rou­tine of “blood-sugar sam­pling, in­jec­tions in his fin­gers, and con­stant in­tro­duc­tion of in­sulin.”

How­ever, the fam­ily strug­gled to es­tab­lish a suit­able diet for their son.

“He wanted to eat all the time and it was hard to reg­u­late the spikes in blood glu­cose — up, down, up, down,” said Sha­laev.

Tools to deal with the dis­ease are ex­pen­sive and hard to ac­quire in Ukraine.

They started us­ing sen­sors to mon­i­tor blood sugar, but “this prod­uct isn’t cer­ti­fied in Ukraine so we had to get them from Italy, and they are not cheap: 60 eu­ros a piece,” Sha­laev ex­plained.

They switched to us­ing dip­sticks for test­ing, which proved cheaper.

Now they get them from the gov­ern­ment, but still not enough. The fam­ily find the 600 dip­sticks pro­vided by the Health Min­istry per year are not nearly enough, and “in re­al­ity two or three times this amount is re­quired.”

An­driy’s car­bo­hy­drate-con­trolled diet is typ­i­cal of di­a­bet­ics, and spe­cial pre­cau­tions have to be taken dur­ing the school day. He must al­ways keep a lit­tle car­ton of juice with him in case his blood glu­cose falls too low, his fa­ther said. At a break time, one of his par­ents checks what he’s eaten, tests his blood glu­cose and tops up his in­sulin as re­quired.

On his birth­day, An­driy will have to set­tle for a cake made of fruit, as his body can’t cope with a tra­di­tional one.

He’s dream­ing of get­ting an in­sulin pump, an un­usual thing to dream for at his age. One of th­ese would re­move the need for con­stant in­sulin in­jec­tions and glu­cose mea­sure­ments. Nor would he have to watch his diet so care­fully.

How­ever, the cost of the pump, at 2,000 eu­ros, is be­yond his par­ents’ means.

Ro­man Vlasenko mea­sures his blood sugar level, a step he takes at least four, some­times more, times a day on Nov. 8 in Kyiv. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

Olena Po­gorelova

An­driy Sha­laev

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