At My First FFL, I Felt at Home
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 15 by my twin brother. Previous to that, I’d never even heard the word. But I know I’d lost about 30 pounds without explanation; was drinking a ton of water; falling asleep randomly; and using the restroom nonstop…something was up. It must have had to do with what my brother said. Sure enough, he was right. I ended up in the ER with a blood sugar of over 650. At that point, it became abundantly clear that my dreams of flying jets in the Navy had hit a brick wall. I tried for years to find a way to serve, but met stops constantly. My life path had to be altered, but thankfully there were other ways to participate in humanity’s greatest adventure of spaceflight. I went to college, got my engineering degrees and at 20 was lucky enough to land an internship at NASA where I got to meet my heroes and contribute to something I loved. Diabetes may have prevented my service in the Navy, but it had no control over serving in other ways.
Admittedly, I did struggle with controlling my blood sugars during college. I wanted to be like everyone else and tended to ignore my diabetes. As I look back now, it was a rough point in my life and ,although I thought I was living freely, the consequences of living with poor glucose management were clear in my energy levels and the constant rollercoaster of highs and lows. It really dawned on me that I would miss opportunities when the Flight Doctors told me I couldn’t get cleared to dive in the NBL until my A1c was under control. And thus began my efforts to live in peace with my type 1 diabetes. I successfully brought my A1c down below 7.5, started living a healthier lifestyle, and noticed how much better I felt. Plus, I now didn’t have to miss incredible opportunities not everyone has.
Until 2016, I dealt with diabetes mostly alone; I never knew there were communities out there for support. That changed drastically when I met Sierra Sandison and she introduced me to a number of influential people in my life. This is how I first learned of Friends for Life (FFL) and really got to understand just how many wonderful organizations there were out there to support those living with T1D.
My first Friends for Life was something I’ll never forget. I remember meeting literally hundreds of other diabetics and sharing stories that all had a common thread – altered dreams and finding a way to still pursue them and live well. It was emotional, uplifting, and for the first time, I felt at home. That’s a wonderful feeling to those who’ve experienced it while having the awareness to know what was happening. Since then, a number of my best friendships have developed thanks to that first conference -and those people are loved immeasurably. I still attend yearly as Teen Staff and it is the highlight of my year every year. The week of hearing new stories; spending time with my closest friends, and seeing the teens grow up and understand that diabetes is just a facet of their lives, and not their entire lives, is always recharging. It’s a privilege to be able to participate in someone else’s story and to share mine so that others might avoid the struggles I faced as a younger person. FFL changed my relationship with type 1 diabetes from something I quite frankly hated, to something that is just another part of me that I now accept without issue. It’s given me the opportunity to meet wonderful people and have experiences I otherwise would have never had. It’s been a blessing.
Ernie Prado has had type 1 diabetes for 19 years. He grew up in Los Angeles dreaming of space, planes, and rockets. While the goal of flying jets in the Navy was never realized, he has had the opportunity to fly in the Super Guppy and has 15 minutes of stick time in that plane! He currently serves as the Project Engineering for that aircraft in Houston, Texas. He holds degrees in Aeronautical Sciences & Engineering and Mechanical Engineering from UC Davis. When Ernie is not working, he enjoys snowboarding, traveling, playing guitar, diving, 3D printing, and boating. He hopes to still fly into space one day and prove that those with Diabetes can do anything they set their minds to. Ernie loves to attend Friends for Life as it is the highlight of the year and he enjoys seeing how policy, technology, and advocacy are changing in the diabetes community. It’s also a great way to make new friendships and see how others with T1D are breaking barriers.
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