Reviewed by Michael Dansinger on April 09, 2012


WebMD Medical Reference in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic.

© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

WebMD Archive

Video Transcript

: Want the stick..want the stick?

Narrator: Melissa Jefferies is the picture of health. It's hard to believe that she's lived half of her life with seizures.

Tim Falkner: It's terrifying. Her eyes would roll back in her head and she would not be conscious of anything I was doing.

Narrator: Melissa is a Type One diabetic. Diagnosed at age 14, she struggled with seizures from the beginning:

Melissa Jefferies: We had this seizure and my parents didn't know what was going on, the EMT guys wouldn't treat me for a seizure because they hadn't been trained that diabetics had seizures… people are trying to tell my sister just tell us that she's on drugs so we know how to treat her, and my sister's going she's not on drugs! There's nothing going on here. I ended up in a coma for two days because they waited so long to treat the seizure.

Narrator: Type One diabetes occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Insulin is critical to the body's absorption of nutrients, so when none is available, the cells of the body begin to starve. At the same time the nutrients, or glucose, build up in the blood. Over time, those high blood sugars can damage vital nerves and organs. Treatment consists of insulin carefully measured and timed with the intake of food. Like many teenagers, Melissa wasn't very cooperative with her parents' efforts to control her sugars:

Melissa Jefferies: I started hiding food. It's horrible to eat when you're not hungry so I started hiding it places so I wouldn't have to eat any. and that was a great part of the management because of course I was taking insulin for the stuff that I was doing, so then I'd have a low blood sugar and I'd have to go sneak some food, because why am I having a low blood sugar, and it was an endless, vicious, cycle …of lies.

Narrator: Low blood sugars can be life-threatening. Left untreated, the result could be a coma and death. Luckily, there are warning signs.

Melissa Jefferies: You feel shaky, you feel really really weak, you're actually really hungry I know instantly if I have low blood sugar if I think anything I'm thinking of sounds delicious. Sometimes you'll sweat, and when you sweat you'll sweat profusely, like you wake up and the sheets are totally soaking wet.

Narrator: Getting just the right dose of insulin is a tricky business. Exercise and stress, as well as highly sugared foods, can cause levels to change daily. And for Melissa, the long lasting insulin often prescribed as a base dose didn't work.

Melissa Jefferies: That was the main thing my doctors kept playing with, certain things peaked dramatically, others peaked less, and they kept playing around with which ones were going to use for me, and none of them worked. They would all send me into seizures.

Tim Falkner: Between 3 and 5 in the morning it seemed to be when the insulin would drop out and her blood sugar would just totally bottom out to zero. I would jump up with a start, run to the fridge, grab a juice, Are you ok? I thought she was dying, I didn't know what to do, and so I would get mad. I would get mad because I thought it was her fault, she wasn't taking care of herself, why are you doing this to me…and not realizing of course that it's the insulin, it's not her at all.

: (dog panting)

Narrator: Today, Melissa is seizure free and her insulin levels are typically within normal limits. For WebMD, I'm Sandee LaMotte.