When 15-year-old CHOC patient Hamza was suddenly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2021, he felt like his world had turned upside down. But with the compassionate and expert care from CHOC Endocrinology, Hamza has learned how to manage his diabetes — allowing him to enjoy all his favorite foods and activities while taking college courses and helping others.
In this Q&A, Hamza talks about his initial symptoms, his experience at CHOC and encouragement for other kids with Type 1 diabetes.
What were some of your initial symptoms before receiving a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis?
My symptoms were subtle at first. I was excessively thirsty, but since it was summertime, I just chalked it up to dehydration and started drinking more water. This then led to excessive urination, another common Type 1 diabetes symptom.
Next, I started feeling lethargic and unmotivated; I stopped partaking in activities I used to enjoy, and I didn’t want to do anything but sit in bed. When I experienced extreme weight loss — losing over 20 pounds in just two to three weeks — my family decided to seek help.
When did you discover that you had Type 1 diabetes and how did you feel?
I discovered I had Type 1 diabetes when my parents took me to a family friend’s endocrinology clinic. I received a fasting blood glucose (sugar) test, which measured the amount of sugar in my blood before I had eaten anything. The normal level for people is around 99 milligrams (mg) of glucose per deciliter (dL), a unit of measure that shows the concentration of a substance in a specific amount of fluid. My fasting blood glucose levels were 400 mg/dL.
Diabetes had never even been a concern in my family, and suddenly I was being diagnosed with it, seemingly out of the blue. I remember feeling a sense of disbelief and thinking, How could this happen to me?
After that quick visit, we contacted my pediatrician, Dr. James Warren, who recommended I go to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Hospital in Orange. He was concerned that I was experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious complication of diabetes when the body can’t produce enough insulin.
I spent three days in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at CHOC, and as scary as the situation was, the endocrinology team at CHOC made sure I was comfortable and helped me deal with my new disease in the best way possible.
What do you like about your CHOC care team?
When I was in the PICU, my endocrinologist Dr. Sejal Kadakia — along with the diabetes educators and nutritionists — made sure I was able to properly care for myself with my new disease by the time I left the hospital. Since my stay at CHOC, I have also seen Dr. Mark Daniels for routine appointments.
Apart from being extremely helpful, the team was also very accommodating. For example, while I was in the PICU, I was also in an accelerated online college math course which required me to be in a Zoom class for four hours a day. Since it was the week before finals, I didn’t want to miss class. The team scheduled all my educational and physician visits around my class schedule, which was extremely helpful.
My care team at CHOC has been amazing; they are always able to assist me with any questions I have about my Type 1 diabetes.
In what ways did your lifestyle change with your Type 1 diabetes diagnosis? How did you learn to manage it?
After being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I tried my best not to change my life from how it was before my diagnosis. I still partake in all the activities I did before like playing sports, exercising consistently, going out with my friends, eating whatever I want (to a certain limit) and doing everything a regular teenager does — just with my diabetes in mind.
Of course, I can’t just ignore my diabetes, but I don’t let it stop me. Early on, my mother who is a pharmacist, helped me learn how to read nutrition labels, weigh my food and correctly count the carbohydrates I eat. Additionally, she helped me understand and manage my insulin that regulates the amount of sugar in my blood.
While it comes with its challenges, I have learned to embrace my Type 1 diabetes as part of who am I and care for myself without having to sacrifice doing the things I love.
We heard you are already in college at age 16, which is amazing! What are your academic goals?
I attended an independent-study public high school where I was able to accelerate my learning, while also leaving time for extracurricular activities. With my accelerated pace, I was able to graduate high school with a year’s worth of college credit at the age of 15.
Now, I’m 16 years old and a sophomore at a local community college. I plan to graduate in May 2023 with three associate degrees in economics, mathematics and interdisciplinary studies. Then, I hope to transfer to a four-year university in the fall of 2023. In the future, I aim to go to law school and work as a lawyer with the final goal of becoming a judge.
What advice would you give to other kids with Type 1 diabetes?
To other kids with Type 1 diabetes, I would say, “Don’t let this disease stop you, keep doing the things you enjoy!”
I would encourage them to take control of their condition. It’s important to learn to dose insulin correctly so you can eat what you want, understand how certain foods affect you, exercise and try to keep your glucose levels in a good range.
On a more technical note, listening to podcasts, reading books, and joining Type 1 diabetes support groups are all great ways to learn tips and tricks on how to care for your diabetes better and enable you to live a normal life. Type 1 Diabetes is a lifelong condition so the faster you learn to manage it, the better you will feel.
Can you tell us about your partnership with CHOC Endocrinology to bring joy to other kids with Type 1 diabetes?
My organization, Sweet Smiles Foundation, partners with CHOC Endocrinology to provide pump face decals for new insulin pump users. Kids can now leave their pump training session at CHOC with an insulin pump that is styled with decals that suit their interests, hopefully creating a more enjoyable pump experience. In the future, I look forward to helping bring smiles to more kids with Type 1 diabetes!
Learn more about CHOC’s Endocrinology Services
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the endocrinology specialty.