Eight years ago, 31-year-old Kelly Sellers was six weeks into adjusting to recently prescribed pain medication and she found herself struggling.  Sellers had trouble keeping food down and had lost 25 pounds.  As a single mother of two, finishing college and looking for full-time work, she frequently put off finding help. “I was scared,” she said. “I was tremendously weak and so tired of being sick. Finally I decided to go to the doctor.”

Her Family Nurse Practitioner, Darla Scott at Novant Health Mountainview Medical in King, North Carolina, diagnosed Sellers with type I diabetes. Sellers was shocked. “It honestly blew me away because my symptoms were nothing like my mother’s, who had type 2, and type 1 was never mentioned in my house growing up, so I just thought there was only one kind.”

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. (Historically, it’s also been called juvenile diabetes.)

Normally, the pancreas regulates insulin automatically, producing hormones that help control blood glucose levels. These hormones can “sense” when sugar levels rise and release insulin to help lower blood glucose back to normal.

But a diabetic’s pancreas in a patient with type 1 diabetes doesn’t produce enough insulin. To maintain regular blood glucose, patients must resort to providing insulin in other ways, such as injections.

There are a few common misconceptions about type 1 diabetes. The disease is autoimmune with genetic factors and is not caused by lifestyle choices, though they can exacerbate it. It also should not be confused with type 2 diabetes.

‘She believed in me’

Sellers went to Dr. Kellie Faulk of Novant Health Intensive Diabetes Management in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for treatment.

“She believed in me when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself,” Sellers said of Faulk. “I’m just extremely thankful that I met her and she’s become my doctor.”

Faulk emphasizes the power and importance of small steps to success – visiting a diabetes educator to learn accurate carb counting and healthy meal planning, setting achievable weight loss goals, attending group classes. “If there’s one thing I hope to do for all my patients,” she said, “it’s to lower their medication as much as possible because now they know what to do for themselves.”

Faulk helps her patients navigate an intensive diabetes care plan. “Our job as their healthcare providers is to make sure they have the right tools in their toolbox.”

Over the past year, Sellers and Faulk have worked as a team to bring her glucose levels under control.

This summer, Faulk put Sellers on a new cutting-edge insulin pump, the Minimed 670g system. Monitoring her sugar levels at all times through a glucose sensor, it alerts Sellers if they read too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia).  “It’s one step closer to an artificial pancreas, because the monitor is controlling her background insulin needs, 24/7,” Faulk said. “It’s an unbelievable advancement.”

Before she started using the pump, Sellers had to administer insulin injections 3-8 times a day. Now, the pump administers insulin for her. When Sellers’ first returned to Faulk’s office for another A1C blood glucose level check, she couldn’t believe the results. “I told (Faulk) I’d be tickled to death if it’s come down to 8.5%,” Sellers said, “so when she told me it was a 7.8%, I cried.” (When she was first diagnosed, it measured 12.6%. A reading of 6.5% or higher signals diabetes.) 

Empowering the patient

Faulk believes in boosting a patient’s confidence, equipping them to improve their health. And, she added, “They are the pilot of the plane, and their engagement is essential.”

Sellers, meanwhile, said she doesn’t “always make good diabetic choices,” but she appreciates the encouragement she receives from Faulk. “She always made me try to understand that there are no good or bad choices, it’s just a choice,” Sellers said. “And if maybe you should have done a bit better, don’t do it the next time. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

Taking back her life

Sellers, now 39, enjoys a newfound sense of control over her life. She also gained motivation from her two kids, Hayleigh, 16 and Adam, 15. “I told myself I would never put them through finding me passed out from my blood glucose not being controlled,” she said.

She finished her degree in paralegal technology, works as an administrative assistant at a Winston-Salem law firm, and is happily engaged to her fiancé, Will. Her most recent A1C has since dropped to 7.1%.

Faulk and her team deserve much of the credit, she said. “They have given me a lot of positive reinforcement, which truly goes a long way in dealing with diabetes every day.”

To schedule a consultation at Novant Health Intensive Diabetes Care clinic, click here

Free event to helping people with diabetes lead healthier lives. Activities will include educational seminars, on-the-spot lab screenings (call 336-277-1880 to register), product demonstrations and much more. Saturday, November 11, 2017 from 8:00 am to noon at 1400 Westgate Center Dr., Suite 130, Green Tree Bldg. 1, Winston Salem, NC 27103.  Details here .  For more information, call 336-718-7500.