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Life with diabetes and a disability

We love sharing our community’s stories of life with diabetes. Here’s Holly’s story of life with diabetes and a disability – how she was born with Cerebral Palsy and later diagnosed with diabetes.

When and how were you diagnosed with diabetes?

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on the 29th June 2021, after being rushed to the hospital in DKA.

Could you tell us about your disability?

I was born with Cerebral Palsy, a neurological condition that affects certain motor skills depending on the area of the brain it affects. It’s a wide-ranging diagnosis. Personally, my lower limbs and balance are affected the most. I can’t walk without the use of a walking frame or something to hold onto. My left side is also noticeably weaker than my right – including my arm and trunk. (Thank goodness I’m right handed!)

life with diabetes and a disability

How do you feel about the word ‘disabled’?

For me, and I would say most of the disabled community, I view ‘disabled’ as another descriptor. It connotes the same feeling as ‘green’ or ‘tall’. Personally, I take issue with the person-first language approach (‘person with disability’ rather than ‘disabled’ person) because it seems dehumanising to have to consciously make an effort to emphasise someone’s humanity.

You are actively separating my identity from my being in the process of ‘making me more human’. Am I less human because of the association?

Holly Heinzelmann

My disability (and Type 1 diabetes) have a huge impact on my life. They have definitely impacted how I think, feel, speak and move about in the world. To ignore that is to ignore my experience as a person. With that being said, both disabled and person with a disability are acceptable terms to use today. This too goes for my opinion on the diabetic vs person with diabetes debate.

diabetes and a disability

How do diabetes and Cerebral Palsy interact?

Cerebral Palsy does make diabetes a lot more complex. For example, since I have basically no balance and have to use my walker, trying to get a snack to treat a low from another room when I don’t have one on me is definitely a challenge. To try to combat this, I’ve put rolls of Super C’s in every room of the house.

Diagnostic tests like urine samples are also often a challenge to collect if I’m trying to test for ketones or at my regular check-up. I think it’s strange that disability and diabetes are not talked about together more, when you consider that many complications of diabetes lead to disability – for example, visual impairment due to retinopathy or amputation due to wounds not healing.

What do you wish you’d known when you were diagnosed with diabetes?

I wish I’d known about hypos! Shockingly, I got no training on how to treat and recognise hypos before I left the hospital.

What advice would you offer to someone who is struggling with either diabetes or a disability (or both!)

There is a large community of both disabled and diabetic people. I suggest you find your people. There is nothing quite like talking to someone or reading something that is written from the perspective you share. It is in those spaces that you can find the sense of belonging and support you might feel you’re missing.

What makes your life sweet?

My two mini schnauzers, Sally and Ozzy; my family, and chocolate!

What to read next?

10 Fast facts about hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): Not sure what hypos are? Here’s an explanation.

Your Diabetes Team: Your diabetes care team will help you develop a diabetes management plan to help you stay healthy and prevent any diabetes-related complications.

Accepting a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis – Mokopane’s story: We love sharing our community’s stories of life with diabetes – including how to accept a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

What to read next
Join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.