We rarely know how much we affect others’ lives: I learned last week.

I love that 1946 Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Hard-working and kind George Bailey, Stewart’s character, feels he’s let all his neighbors down and wishes he’d never been born. But an angel, Clarence, comes down to Earth to show George what the world would have been like without him. It’s not a pretty picture: the town has gone to ruin and George’s brother dies because George wasn’t there to save him.

Flash forward to now, my life. Out of the blue I got an email from a young woman, Daniela Rojas. Daniela has type 1 diabetes and told me how much I’d changed her life.

I asked her permission to post her message to me for two reasons. One, I was so moved I could barely contain myself. Two, we need to remember in all the hard work we do as advocates, we impact people every day, everywhere. It’s easy to forget because we seldom hear the stories.

From Daniela Rojas – (Whom I have since discovered is a psychologist and writes a blog at Diabetica Solutions.)

Hi Riva,

I would love to share your impact in my life, it truly would be an honor.

You must know I not only loved your talk (at the International Diabetes Federation’s 2015 World Congress), but also your answer and participation in a hypo session in Vancouver. In both you showed me that it was ok to live a life with low (blood sugar) numbers. The reason your words meant so much to me is a long story. If you don’t mind I’ll try to tell it to you.

I had a very “traumatic” debut (with diabetes). I was in a coma for three weeks, I had to stay in the hospital for a long time.

Before my diagnosis, I used to be a ballet dancer. I was very good actually and when I got diagnosed and then was at the hospital I was very worried about missing my ballet classes. I kept telling my mother they were going to kick me out. I told her this every single day in the ICU. She kept telling me not to worry and at the time neither of us really understood what was wrong with me or what type one diabetes really was.

One morning I was telling my mother once again that I wanted to get out and go to ballet class. At the time there was a med student in the room and he came over and told me “You need to stop thinking of ballet, you will never get to dance again. Ballet shoes will hurt your feet and if that happens because of your diabetes I am going to have to cut your feet off.”

I can remember that exact moment as if it was this morning. I remember holding my mom’s hand and telling her I didnt want to loose my feet, and her telling me that she was going to do everything to prevent that from happenning.

After that incident they tried to explain what type one diabetes was, and a very kind doctor told me the key to prevent any complications was to have low numbers daily, not hypos (blood sugar below 80 mg/dl) but low numbers. She said that could help me be healthy for the rest of my life.

Back then, this was more than 25 years ago, I had no access to glucose meters. I actually got my first one almost 4 years after my diagnosis when my mom went on a work trip to the States and managed to buy one. I remember my first reading was around 400. It was awful and so scary, I couldnt get that doctor’s words out of my head. After I could do daily readings, I started working to have low numbers, which plenty of times ended in a hypo.

For the past decade or more I have had HbA1c of 5.8, 5.9% and the highest of 6.0%. A lot of people keep telling me that’s a problem. That I am probably doing things wrong and that I am going to end up hurting myself.

That’s when you come in. I went to the hypo talk with Wim. You were sitting a row ahead of me. After the presentation ended, the lady who was on the panel said it was almost impossible to have low numbers without lots of hypos. If I’m not wrong, she even said it would be easier to watch a unicorn than coming across a person with type one with low HbA1c throughout a long period of time.

Then you stood up and asked for the mic. You said that was not true. You said you had been living a low carb diet and had amazing numbers for a very long time. There was a girl from Australia sitting next to you who felt the same way, and you said she had managed to do it herself as well. At that moment Wim came up to you and told you that I had done the same thing. You looked at me and told the lady us three had done it. Then she said we should probably work together on a book to help others get that.

You told as well that you have had hypos, but you manage them, you’ve learned and most importantly had been able to remain healthy throughout your entire life with diabetes.

You have no idea what that meant to me. I had finally found someone in the world who knew what I felt, and believed and didn’t ask me to be afraid of my body, not even my hypos.

In your talk you shared a story where you had a hypo and your husband helped you with it. That made me happy, made me realise that asking for help actually shows how strong you are as you are doing everything to survive. What’s stronger than that? It made me feel comfortable with the fact that at times sharing our hypos with others gives us the chance to choose between feeling stronger or more afraid and paralyzed. The way you talked about it made me feel so comfortable in my own skin that it actually allowed me to talk to Wim about this hypo project and here we are.

So thank you, thank you, for inspiring me. Without you knowing it you made me feel safe within my own self. Thank you for letting me see that what I had in my head was real and made sense, even though it is not what everyone else thinks.

Most of all, thank you for empowering me to share my life stories with someone other than myself; I really can’t thank you enough.

Hope you have a lovely Sunday afternoon, once again thank you very much.

Best regards,

Daniela Rojas

Daniela Rojas Psicóloga.png

I had a lovely Sunday, Monday, and now Tuesday afternoon. What we say, what we do, we will rarely know how it affects someone. You have to trust that it does. And every once in a while an angel, like a Daniela Rojas, all the way from Costa Rica, will pop out of the blue and tell you so.

2 thoughts on “We rarely know how much we affect others’ lives: I learned last week.

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