Nkiruka Vivian Okoro

Structured education has given me the tools to better manage my condition. "If you understand diabetes, diabetes will understand you"

How long have you been living with diabetes?

I have been living with type 1 diabetes for 33 years.

How were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed after falling into a diabetic coma. My acetone breathe was the "diagnosis that helped with my diagnosis."

Did your diagnosis come as a surprise to you?

It came as a huge surprise because I did not know that young people like myself could be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. We all thought it was a condition that affected older people.

How did your diagnosis affect your family or loved ones?

My whole family was devastated by the news, especially when the doctor informed my parents that my life depended on daily insulin injections. Their world literally changed and focused on keeping me alive every minute, days and years after.

What are the most important things that have supported your diabetes care?

Diabetes education or, in my words, "getting to know diabetes". Structured education has given me the tools to better manage my condition. I now understand how to carb count to match my insulin ratios and avoid too many episodes of high or low blood glucose, and how each food class affects my glucose levels. When I was diagnosed, I did not have all the educational arsenal to live well with type 1 diabetes. "Knowledge is Power" and my personal quote is, "If you understand diabetes, diabetes will understand you".

What has living with diabetes taught you the most?

Diabetes has taught me to be very methodical and better organised. Living with the condition for 33 years has made me a stronger person as diabetes throws a lot at you all at once. Once you survive, there's nothing that comes your way that you cannot tackle. I have not let my condition define me. I defined diabetes by having a good self-care management routine.

What has been your lowest point with diabetes?

My lowest points were when, three years after my diagnosis, I was told I could not eat certain meals because my body could not effectively process sugars after digestion; and when I was labelled "That girl who lives with diabetes. Do you know she cannot have kids because she lives with diabetes." This affected my relationships with men. I was stigmatised and rejected by suitors.

Have you ever experienced issues accessing diabetes medicines, supplies and care?

Yes. After my diagnosis, human insulin was not very common in Nigeria and my parents had to pay a lot to import insulin from overseas for me.

What would you like to see change in diabetes over the next 100 years?

I would like to see better distribution of free insulin and diabetes management resources for everyone living with diabetes, especially underserved populations in rural parts of Nigeria. More structured diabetes education would also play a huge impact in improving their lives as many "diabetes myths" remain prevalent among the population.

What do you think needs to change to improve the lives of people living with diabetes in your country?

My government should allocate more funds to provide all people living with diabetes with a free monthly care pack to help with their self-care routine.

What does the centenary of insulin mean to you?

Insulin means life as it brought me out of a 5-day diabetic coma.

The Insulin at 100 campaign is supported by