Elevation Health’s co-founder Maggi Birdsell is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. Since November is diabetes awareness month, Maggi decided to sit down with Elevation Health member, Rhonda, to discuss her life experience with type 1 diabetes.

This article covers the following topics…

  • Rhonda’s personal story with type 1 diabetes
  • How far medical technology has come for those with diabetes
  • The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Resources to help you manage your diabetes during the holidays



Maggi: Diabetes is common for a lot of people, but the topic of living with diabetes is not always comfortable to talk about. Thank you for being here, Rhonda. You said you were feeling sick about a week before you were diagnosed. What were some of your symptoms? What were you experiencing?

Rhonda: I understand type one happens very, very quickly. My aunt was type 1 back in the 40s. The thirst was something that I couldn’t even describe and I was going to the restroom constantly. It started getting in my way at school so the teacher picked up on it. She realized I wasn’t well and called my mom.

“I was diagnosed 3 days after my 14th birthday, so it has been 50 years.”

I was in the hospital for a week. They had trouble getting it regulated. I think my sugar was well over 800 when I was put in the hospital. I lost 10 lbs in about a week. They didn’t know how I wasn’t in a coma, but I wasn’t.

Maggi: That was what I was about to say. It’s amazing that you were functioning while you were sick.

Rhonda: Then a nurse came in one day and said, “We’ve got to teach you how to take your shot.” She gave me an orange that I practiced one time and I’ve been doing it for myself ever since.

Maggi: Was there an era that was hard on you and felt the most difficult? When was that?

Rhonda: The very first of it was very, very difficult. I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t have someone like you to come to [gestures to Maggi]. It was a lot of experimentation, but I was always active, thank goodness. I knew what affected me and what made my sugar go higher.

Maggi: Now we use an A1C. An A1C is a measure of your blood sugars in the past three months on average. It gives us a percentage. Do you remember when you were first able to get a better lab like a A1C?

Rhonda: We knew that diet played an important role and the exercise activities played an important role. After the 80s it seemed like technology started picking up a little bit. The A1C came along. The first time I ever had it checked I was 11%. The technology for the finger prick and the blood readings came out. I think I was 30 when I got that and I couldn’t afford it.

Maggi: Right up to 10, 15 years ago glucometers have been extremely expensive and not covered well by insurance.

Rhonda: I got a blood monitor finally in my thirties. So from 14 to 30 years old, I never knew what my blood sugar level was.

Maggi: That had to have been really challenging to know how to respond to it.

Rhonda: It was you. You did a urine test, but it still didn’t tell you what was happening. It told you what might’ve been happening over the last day or so.

Maggi: To have been able to live those 50 years with very few, if any complications [claps hands] big applause for the work that you’ve done. Not everybody is able to say that, especially coming up through an era where you had to take a lot of responsibility. To be able to go through a time when there wasn’t hardly any technology. What are some of the tools that you have today that work for you?

Rhonda: Today, I have the sensor. If I feel like something is changing, I can test it so quickly and make adjustments. That has been probably the biggest thing that has happened to me. The other thing is the new types of insulin that keep your basal rate level. I feel like I have more freedom. Even if I don’t know what exactly triggered it, I have the ability to correct it.

Maggi: There’s a little more flexibility even in your food choices. Obviously if you make more healthy food choices you can use less insulin, but you do not have to forgo that piece of birthday cake. You now know how to cover it like a pancreas would.

Basal is your baseline insulin level that covers all your blood sugars when you’re not eating. Your bolus are those rapid insulins covering your meal times, which is how your pancreas works. What year was it when they transitioned you to basal-bolus?

Rhonda: About [the year] 2000.

Maggi: Though I know it was 22 years ago, I think of 2000 like it was yesterday. I’ve been in diabetes education for right around 15 years. The fact that you had diabetes 30 years almost before you really were able to switch to a method that kind of mimics your pancreas is just amazing.

“For a really long time, diabetes was one of those [chronic health conditions] where the technology and medicine was really lagging.”

With a continuous glucose monitor, where you have that sensor and you can scan it, it’s also linked to family members. I think about being a child with type 1 diabetes today versus 50 years ago and how much fear that would take away as a parent to be able to see what the blood sugars are doing while your child is asleep. 

Rhonda: I’ll say that they made probably a lot more progress in the last 20 [years] than the entire 30 years before that.

Maggi: Do you feel like having diabetes has led you in your career, your lifestyle and the work that you do today? Has that been a factor in leading you into that field?

Rhonda: I’ve learned how diet and exercise in your lifestyle affects your whole life. [I work for] a nationwide program that goes into the schools and teaches how to eat smart food and move more. It also teaches family members. It’s about making good choices little by little everyday.

I’ve been doing that for about 13 years now.

“People need to realize that it’s the little things you do everyday over time that really adds up.”

Maggi: We tend to get very caught up in the moment and in the media. Wanting rapid returns on changes we make instead of settling into a lifestyle. Like you said, the small choices and changes add up over a week, a month and years. I think you’re an inspiration to a lot of people. Thank you for sharing your story.

Rhonda: You’re welcome.



Did you know 25% of people with diabetes are walking around undiagnosed? Don’t let this be you! Keep a check on your glucose and A1C. You also don’t have to have diabetes or prediabetes to experience effects of blood sugar imbalances. Some typical signs and symptoms that might indicate blood sugar imbalances are:

  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • sugar cravings
  • waking through the night
  • frequent infections
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • blood results showing elevated markers associated with longer-term dysregulation

Blood glucose can be elevated or lowered if the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, produces too much or cannot use insulin properly in the body. This can cause ‘insulin resistance’ where cells slow down the process of allowing the transportation of glucose into them.

An elevated morning time blood sugar can indicate insulin resistance. Typically these blood sugars are the last to rise, meaning there may be elevated blood sugars at other times during the day. Diet and lifestyle can play key roles in blood sugar dysregulation, but can also be modified in order to improve stability in both the short and long term.

“The main difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition that often shows up early in life, and type 2 is mainly lifestyle-related and develops over time. With type 1 diabetes, your immune system is attacking and destroying the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas” (Bourley, 2018).

Serious health complications can occur if you do not manage your high blood glucose. Taking the right steps to become aware of your body’s blood sugar levels can help you maintain a healthy life.



The American Diabetes Association has an amazing Diabetes-Friendly Holiday Toolkit.

This free self-guided course is a Holiday Survival Guide that helps you make healthy food decisions this time of year!

Grocery shop with confidence with this self-guided course that teaches Nutrition Facts Label Reading For Beginners.



Bourley, Gary-Jay. “Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes UK, Diabetes UK, 6 Nov. 2018, https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/differences-between-type-1-and-type-2-diabetes#:~:text=The%20main%20difference%20between%20the,producing%20cells%20in%20your%20pancreas.