Back from the Brink

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on my 12th birthday. After a few months of lethargy, excessive drinking and urinating, and weight loss, my parents sat me down with a group of their friends and we played a game of “test your blood sugar”. I went last. Everyone else had recorded a reading between 4.0 and 8.0. When my reading came up as 37.4 I was thrilled. I had totally won this game! Turns out I had won a 2-week stay at the hospital.

The first few years after my diagnosis, everything went along quite smoothly. I managed to stay on a strict schedule for eating, injecting, and testing my blood sugar. It all went downhill when I started high school and some of my classmates began to call me a junkie. I couldn’t take the teasing. I practically stopped injecting for over a year. I didn’t want to have diabetes anymore so I convinced myself that I didn’t.

I eventually ended up in the hospital in a diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) coma, as my body was eating itself to compensate for the lack of insulin. My parents were told I had been 2 hours away from dying. I spent the next 5 months recovering. You would think I would have learned my lesson from this, but no. For the next four years, I was hospitalized more than 12 times with DKA.

At the tender age of 17 I had both my eyes operated on for diabetes-induced cataracts. I held the record for the youngest case of diabetic cataracts in Australia; it was not something of which I was proud. At 19, a doctor told me that if I didn’t get my act together I would be totally blind before I was 25. This was the wake-up call I so desperately needed. I began to take my diabetes seriously, and I was able to avoid the hospital.

I am so thankful I got the message, since I became pregnant just a few years later. It was a welcome surprise for my husband and me, but also a scary one. My average HBA1c at the time was 10.1, which for me wasn’t that bad. I was asked to get it down to 8.0. Those nine months represented the toughest diabetes challenge I have ever experienced.

Zoe Mattson with her son.

In the first three months of pregnancy I suffered countless hypos, including one that left me in a coma from a low blood sugar of 0.7. The only reason I survived that low was because my dog Cooper went into a barking frenzy and nearly broke down our bedroom door to wake up my husband. I ended up having to switch my insulin brand and greatly reduce my insulin intake. I was on bedrest for the last trimester. I was also down to taking just one unit of insulin a day because my son was making insulin for both of us.

We were told my son would be born with underdeveloped lungs and need to be in the hospital for at least 5 weeks. My son had other ideas. I went into labor early and he was born at 34 weeks via C-section. He was in the neonatal unit for 24 hours until his blood sugar stabilized, but he had no lung problems and he was discharged after 48 hours old in perfect health. He was my miracle baby, and now he is a healthy 6-year-old.

As I enter the last year of my twenties, I am a lot wiser than I was as a teen. Do I have perfect control of my diabetes? No. Do I forget injections occasionally? Yes. Do I drink alcohol and eat cupcakes? On occasion, but I make sure I alter my insulin accordingly. I also now exercise four times a week. My vision may still be terrible, and it won’t ever repair itself, but otherwise I am the healthiest I have ever been. I have come to terms with my diabetes and I have left the “why me” attitude behind. There’s too much riding on me staying healthy to do anything else.

I’ve also started a charitable organization, Got Insulin Inc., to educate the public about Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is rarely in the media in Australia and I hope to change that, so young people with Type 1 diabetes don’t have to go through the same experiences I did. While I made my own bad choices as a teen, my experience also proves that ignorance and stigma of Type 1 diabetes can be deadly.


To learn more about Zoe’s organization, go to

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Zoe Mattsson is the Founder and Director of Gotinsulin, a charity working with kids and young adults with Type 1 Diabetes. She lives with her son, Indiana Danger, and husband, Ryan, in Australia.

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