Champion tennis player copes with Type 1 diabetes
Shirley Hawkins | 10/1/2008, 5 p.m.
It's a story of spirit, courage, and heart-and a tale of a mother who refused to give up on her child.
Long Beach resident Yvonne Profit and her husband, Frank, were ecstatic when they brought their daughter Elizabeth home from the hospital 11 years ago.
"She seemed like a happy, healthy child," recalls Yvonne. But by the time Elizabeth was two and a half years old, Yvonne knew something was terribly wrong.
"For some reason, Elizabeth always seemed to be suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms," recalls Yvonne. "I was constantly feeding her fluids or soups to make her symptoms go away."
But as the symptoms continued, Yvonne became concerned and sought the advice of a doctor.
The doctor's diagnosis stunned the Profit family. "The doctor said that Elizabeth had Type 1 diabetes. I was shocked because diabetes does not run on my side of the family nor on my husband's," remembers the mother.
The Profits were also puzzled because Mary, their younger daughter, was born without diabetes.
Within the past decade, doctors have been dignosing children with Type 1 or 2 diabetes, a condition that was once only diagnosed in adults. Symptoms include constant thirst, frequent urination, nausea and vomiting-all of which indicate that their blood sugar is elevated.
When doctors tested Elizabeth on the glucose monitor, they found that her blood sugar, which should normally range between 70 and 140, registered at over 600. "Her pancreas was not able to produce insulin, which produced the high blood sugar," said Yvonne. To keep her daughter's blood sugar at a normal level, Yvonne had to give her daughter 12 insulin shots a day.
"It's not like you're blind or have lost a finger or a leg because the damage is internal. There are problems with the liver and the kidneys-those are long term effects that happen from not testing blood sugar or maintaining proper control. It's a silent killer," she said.
Yvonne recalls that the first years of grappling with the disease were a challenge. "Elizabeth would run through the house and hide whenever I had to give her an insulin shot," recalls Yvonne. "She would cry, 'I hate diabetes! Why am I the only one that has diabetes?'"
Despite the debilitating effects of the disease, Yvonne said she never allowed Elizabeth to feel that she was different from other children. "I chose to think of her as a unique little girl, because 'different' had a negative connotation attached to it and I wanted no part of negativism," Yvonne maintained. "I refuse to allow her to think of herself as handicapped, disabled, or something far less than perfect."
At the age of seven, Yvonne brought Elizabeth an insulin pump to help her to control her blood sugar. She also gifted her and her youngest daughter with another surprise-a tennis racquet. After being informed that exercise played a crucial part in a diabetic's health and well being, Yvonne urged Elizabeth to pursue tennis as a hobby. It wasn't long before Elizabeth was chasing the ball all over the tennis court and began entering-and winning-tournaments.
"Activity plays a crucial part in controlling diabetes," Yvonne said. "The more physically active a child is, the better control they will have over Type 1 or 2 diabetes."
Realizing that other parents may be seeking help in raising their diabetic child, Yvonne created a Web site, the Lizzieworld Foundation, in 2007. "I founded the Web site to promote healthy lifestyles for children with diabetes," said Yvonne. The site features Elizabeth's experieces with diabetes and her tennis tournaments. It also features other children who are successfully coping with diabetes. "I've received a lot of e-mails from parents whose children are suffering from depression because they have diabetes. I wanted to give them hope and let them know there were other children out there living healthy in spite of having diabetes." So far, the Web site has received 11,000 hits from all over the country.
To help parents cope with children with diabetes, Yvonne also wrote a book called Never Give Up. The book is about a mother who is grappling with a child who is a diabetic and is available at the Lizziworldfoundation.com web site. Yvonne hopes that proceeds from the book will help to provide nurses in the public schools for children who are coping with diabetes and fund education and research for the disease.
Yvonne said that Elizabeth has emerged as an inspiration for other children who are grappling with diabetes. "There's a girl named Mikala who contacted us through the web site. Her mother said she was depressed because she had diabetes. She came to watch Elizabeth play in a tournament. Her mother said that ever since Mikala saw Elizabeth play, her whole attitude has changed."
And Yvonne said that she regularly stresses diet and health as Elizabeth continues to control her blood sugar and win tournaments.
"I also make sure that Elizabeth eats vegetables and fruits and stays away from junk food," said Yvonne. "and to make sure that her blood sugar is level, I test it before, during and after a match to make sure it remains normal."
Making sure that Elizabeth gets enough rest is also important, and, "I always urge Elizabeth to maintain a positive attitude, because mood has an impact on blood sugar."
Despite the fact that she is living with diabetes, Yvonne said that Elizabeth, who plays in tennis tournaments with her insulin pump attached to her side, has not let the disease slow her down. "Elizabeth has won nine junior tournaments and has 22 trophies," Yvonne said proudly. "She recently competed in a tournament for the age 16 division with a draw of 64 girls and was the youngest player to make it to round 16."
Yvonne was gratified that despite years of grappling with the disease, Elizabeth has not let her diabetic condition deter her. "One day she said, "Diabetes is a blessing and I can do anything I want if I put my mind to it. I believe in myself and I will never use diabetes as an excuse not to try my best."
"Everyone is astonished when they discover Elizabeth has diabetes because she is so healthy," said Yvonne. "Their first response is 'Wow.' When people first see her insulin pump, they normally assume that it is a pager, cell phone or even an iPod. One little boy walked up to her at a tennis practice and asked her, 'Are you a robot?'" Yvonne laughs. "Elizabeth answered, 'No, I'm the terminator.'"
The proud mother states that Elizabeth has no plans of slowing down. The energetic tennis phenom has made a promise to herself: to be the first diabetic to win the US Open.