PAWTUCKET — Hannah Guevremont is a typical senior at Saint Raphael Academy. She plays on the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams, and enjoys the bowling club, Ping-Pong club and Lasallian Youth. She even has a part-time job scooping ice cream. And even with that busy schedule, she has found the time to act in the recent drama performance, “In the Forests of the Night.”
Just three days before the performance at Saints, there was trouble during a rehearsal.
“My blood sugar was high all day and then it was low the next hour, then it was high. It was crazy. I was onstage, and I was like, if I don’t get off stage right now, I’m going to pass out.”
It wasn’t nerves, as one would expect. Hannah has juvenile diabetes, also known as Type 1 diabetes. And it is something that she must monitor 24 hours a day.
“Some days, it’s just so much harder,” she said. “Every day is different.”
Hannah was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes the summer she was 11 years old. It was a scary time for her and her family, not to mention a huge learning curve in how to care for herself. Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence, and currently, there is no cure. Those with the disease must learn to control their blood sugar through insulin injections, diet, and close medical monitoring.
While she relied on family members for her injections over the summer, the fall posed a new challenge. Hannah began her middle school years at Saint Teresa School in Pawtucket, still learning about the disease.
“I was in the nurse’s office three, four, five times a day. My blood sugar was high, my blood sugar was low. I had to learn how to give myself a shot, which I never had to do before, or the school nurse had to give me a shot. But I think today, because of that, I have learned how to become independent. I have grown as a person, and I think it has just shaped me for who I am today.”
Her own acceptance came about with the support of her community at Saint Teresa’s and the local Knights of Columbus. They sponsored a walk team, Hannah’s Knights, at the annual Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) One Walk. Together, they have raised more than $30,000 toward research.
As the community helped her, she felt compelled to pay it forward. When the pandemic affected Rhode Island, Hannah and her family organized two food drives in 2020. Altogether, they collected more than five tons of food for the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen.
“If it was not for my church that had helped me out, I do not think I would have gone this far to be so kind spirited and want to help the community as much as I have.”
The uncertainty of living with the diagnosis led Hannah and her family to JDRF, a prominent resource for Type 1 diabetes research, advocacy and community engagement. JDRF has local chapters around the country to assist children and families with concerns and support them in their journey with diabetes.
Soon, Hannah became interested in advocacy on behalf of children with diabetes. There are many things that people do not understand about the disease, she said. “There’s a physical cost, there’s emotional costs, there’s a whole bunch of things that come along with diabetes.”
At 17, she decided now was the right time to push herself to advocate for others. She applied and was chosen by the JDRF as Rhode Island’s delegate for their 2023 Children’s Congress in July.
The application process is competitive and very selective, requiring the submission of a long application and creation of a video about the child’s experiences with Type 1 diabetes. The Children’s Congress brings children together as a group to speak to legislators in Washington about the challenges that they face and ask them to support more funding for research.
“It was such an amazing experience,” said Hannah. “It was great to know there are other people that are advocating for the same cause and have the same daily struggles as I do. I got to have great conversations with not just them, but also other parents, volunteers, staff members and most importantly the congressmen who will help make a difference for this wonderful cause.”
Being the only delegate from Rhode Island, Hannah had to go in the meetings strong and proud.
“I learned how to use my voice, and all my nerves went away. I’m so extremely honored that this opportunity allowed me to be heard. I know Rhode Island is the smallest state, but I also know my voice was one of the biggest heard.”
Her experiences have also inspired her future career aspirations.
“My plan after I graduate high school is to go to college to be a nurse and a diabetes educator and help younger kids [with their diagnosis].”
Having a personal experience with the disease allows her greater insight into what young patients go through when they are first diagnosed. She hopes to empower them through their shared experiences.
“I want to help younger kids to be able to advocate for themselves.”
She has this advice for the newly diagnosed, which she explains very calmly and smoothly, a glimpse of how she will someday relate to her young patients.
“It gets easier, definitely, but you won’t feel like that at first. You feel alone, you feel drained. It’s so hard to get used to, but I think after a while you’ll be like, this is me and that’s okay.”
All through her diagnosis she has felt extremely supported by everyone around her.
“My family has always made me feel comfortable being who I am, and proudly showing off my devices. Along with this, in middle school at Saint Teresa’s and high school, here at Saint Raphael Academy, I have never had a problem with my diabetes. They have always supported me through everything and accommodated me in any way I needed to make me feel comfortable in all of my classes.”
With reports from Associate Editor Laura Kilgus.
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