Whether elementary school, high school or college, back to school time signals a time of change. We’ve talked before about the challenge of transitioning to college life in our Diabetes 101: Tips for College Students post, and highlighted the story of Amanda Mezer, a college student who lives with type 1 diabetes. Today we’d like to introduce you to two more college students with diabetes, Kristi Albright and Dani Petrunich. Their friendship is a testament to the value of sharing experiences with someone who understands what it means to live with diabetes.
Dani was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age, so she doesn’t remember much about the experience. “My parents always told me that I’d been really thirsty, and was going to the bathroom a lot,” she said, “so they took me to the hospital after dance practice one morning and I was diagnosed. I grew up having diabetes; it’s always just been a part of my life.”
Kristi was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes the summer before her junior year of high school when she was 16. “In preparation for soccer tryouts, I had to get a physical,” she said. “They checked my blood sugar level and it was over 400. I was rushed over to the children’s hospital, though I didn’t have to be hospitalized. I just met with them and learned all about how to live with diabetes. It was nothing too dramatic, thankfully.”
Dani and Kristi met their freshman year of college when they both joined the lacrosse team. “I was walking down to the lacrosse field with some girls and I noticed one girl had an insulin pump,” said Dani. “As soon as we found out we both had diabetes we hit it off right from there and it’s grown into an awesome friendship.”
The girls roomed together their sophomore year and will room together again this year. “It’s been so nice to have a roommate who also lives with diabetes,” said Dani. “My freshman year I’d have low blood sugar in the middle of the night and I’d get up and eat a snack. My first roommate didn’t understand why I had to eat something at three in the morning. Now I have a roommate who knows what I’m going through, which makes all the difference.”
Dani and Kristi also look out for each other on the lacrosse field. “We talk a lot about our blood sugar level,” said Dani. “As college athletes with diabetes our blood sugars may do a lot of really weird things. So we’ll just throw all these ideas off of each other and say, ‘Maybe try eating this before,’ or ‘Lower your basal rate now.’ It’s nice to have someone right there who knows the lingo.”
Kristi advises other college students with diabetes to seek out others living with diabetes on campus. “Get connected and talk about it,” she said. “Just talking with Dani has made me feel so much better about diabetes. The best thing about meeting Dani and finally talking with someone about my diabetes, was knowing that I’m not alone. It’s so nice to encourage each other when the challenges of diabetes can get you down. I can’t stress how much that has helped me with my diagnosis and with my outlook on living with diabetes.”
It’s best to be upfront about your diabetes with a roommate who does not live with diabetes, advises Dani. “You don’t want to overload them with information and scare them, but it’s important for them to have ideas of what you need to do to take care of yourself,” she said. “Let them know it’s important they don’t drink your juice boxes or if you’re acting funny to call the RA. I think it’s important to have an honesty policy and just communicate with them from the start.”
Because Dani and Kristi both understand life with diabetes, they often joke about shared experiences which led Dani to create the Twitter account @DiabetesGirls to share what they call “Diabetic Girl Problems.”
“Dani has really taught me to laugh about the more funny things about diabetes,” said Kristi. “We’re known to have the bigger sweet tooths on our lacrosse team. We like to make fun of that. Everyone knows if Kristi or Dani start to get cranky they probably just need a chocolate bar to help with low blood sugar.”
Dani’s Twitter account led to her getting noticed by the College Diabetes Network (CDN), where she is now interning and writing for its blog. Dani also worked with Kristi to start a CDN chapter at their school. “There was a school nurse who has a soft spot for diabetic students,” said Dani. “She emailed several of us and offered to have a lunch one day. We started having small group meetings, then turned those into a CDN chapter. It’s been surprisingly helpful to have this group of people to talk to and bounce ideas off of. It’s been a life changing thing for Kristi and me.”
The depth of Dani and Kristi’s friendship is obvious; the way they support each other through a variety of experiences is commendable. Our thanks to them both for sharing their story.
Head of Patient Insights, Sanofi US Diabetes
Disclosure: Kristi Albright and Danielle Petrunich received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.