Why I Advocate: Laurel Garrison

I lived to prevent other people from getting sick.  Then my toddler was diagnosed with a totally unpreventable, incurable illness. And my life was forever changed.

It was 2015.  I was enjoying a successful career as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  My days were a constant barrage of emergency conference calls and last-minute trips to fight the latest outbreak. Twelve-hour days were more the norm than the exception, and I’d often leave the house before my two children awoke and return after they’d gone to sleep.  My husband performed more than his fair share of the household duties.

All the while, my preschooler, and toddler were happy, healthy, and surrounded by people who loved them.  I did all the right things. I took prenatal vitamins (with Omega-3s!), bought organic food (and sheets, and clothes!), got them vaccinated (on time!), and bought all the internet’s best learning toys.

Photo by Sarah Green Photography

Then one night in December my 16-month-old baby girl was having trouble breathing.  I had taken her to the pediatrician twice that day, and when my after-hours calls went unreturned I drove her to the emergency department.  Everyone initially thought she had a respiratory virus. It was the winter after all. I was in shock when the doctor told me she had Type 1 diabetes.

We spent 24 hours in ICU and another three days in the hospital learning how to count carbs, calculate insulin dosages, and prick her finger to check her blood sugar.  I remember the first time the nurse asked me if I wanted to give her a shot, and “no” was not an option. We came home two days before Christmas. I realized then that our lives would never be the same.  Not just her life, but ALL of our lives. I couldn’t travel and put in all of those hours at work anymore. I needed to make her and my family my priority.

I threw myself into taking care of my daughter and the rest of my family.  I joined diabetes support groups. I went to conferences and diabetes family camp and fundraisers for diabetes research.  I poured over papers touting the latest in diabetes advancements.

EVERYTHING CHANGED.  

There were big changes, like putting my career on hold to become a stay-at-home mom.  Or moving to another state to be closer to family and a good children’s hospital. There were sobering realities, for example, my daughter couldn’t go to preschool or summer day camps because they wouldn’t take her.  Normal everyday things changed too. We have to measure her food and have three well-balanced meals at the same time every day, always. We never get a break; she is with us 24/7 because we are the only ones who can administer insulin.  It’s impacted us financially as we went from a two-income household to one and now have the added cost of insulin and all the many other diabetes supplies she needs.  

The thing is, I had devoted my life to disease prevention, but there is absolutely NOTHING that anyone can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes.  Yet. And the incidence of the disease is increasing at an epidemic pace.

So until we can prevent it, I can help by giving diabetes a face and a story so people care.

I’ll tell our legislators about the everyday challenges so they can make informed decisions. I want my daughter to have the freedom to choose what she wants to do with her future without having to worry about keeping an affordable insurance plan.  I will be a champion for healthcare bills that give scientists the grants they need to do important research that will improve the lives of people living with diabetes. Maybe even one day that research will be the key to preventing it from happening to anyone else.