KEISHA - Portraits of Diabetes

Keisha Cardinal holding a blanket.


Type 1 diabetes-diagnosed 2006

Keisha went through this really traumatic experience-we all did. -Keisha's father Cory

Keisha Cardinal holds the blanket that's been a source of comfort to her since the age of 10, when she awoke in a hospital bed feeling scared and vulnerable.

She had been visiting her grandparents, who had a stomach flu. When she came home with similar symptoms, her parents didn't realize the traumatic situation that was unfolding. She had undiagnosed type 1 diabetes and her severely high blood-sugar level resulted in a coma that lasted two days.

While Keisha was in the hospital recovering, a woman came to her room to comfort her and gave her a homemade blanket. Later, Keisha's family tried to find the woman to thank her, but nobody who worked at the hospital knew who she was and the family never did track down the mystery visitor. Now 21, Keisha-a member of Swan River First Nation-receives comfort and support from her family and community, from whom she's rarely felt any judgment due to her diabetes. Every year her family-including her dad, Cory, a police officer-offers community presentations, where they tell their story and share facts about diabetes with the goal of educating as many people as possible.

Becoming an adult has brought a huge shift for Keisha; when she was a child, her parents took care of her disease, but now she has to take the reins. Monitoring her blood-sugar levels on a strict schedule requires constant vigilance. Managing diabetes is like working a full-time job without any breaks, which has resulted in Keisha feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated. "I'm kind of in a burnout. They call it diabetes burnout," she says.

Four years to the day after Keisha was diagnosed, her younger brother Steven was told he also has type 1 diabetes. But father Cory says the circumstances of the two siblings' diagnoses were miles apart. "Keisha went through this really traumatic experience-we all did. And then when she came out (of the hospital), we were really on edge for a long time. I think we put fear into her when we didn't have to," says Cory. But with her brother, they had been looking for the symptoms for a long time and were very prepared once the diagnosis was made.

Keisha's outlook is becoming more positive, with plans to continue improving her health. When she was first diagnosed, both Keisha and her parents went through training to learn about the disease, but because she was so young, she doesn't feel like she really understood the information. "And so I would like to do the training for myself so I know, because [my parents] know more than I do," she says. She believes that information and professional support would help alleviate her burnout.

And Keisha has other plans for her future. After completing academic upgrading she would like to become a registered nurse so she can make an impact on others the way the compassionate woman with the blanket helped her during her hospital stay 11 years ago.

The Alberta Diabetes Institute is working towards our ultimate goal of improving the lives of people living with diabetes and finding a cure.

Photography: Richard Siemens Writer: Caroline Barlott Editor: Sasha Roeder Mah Creative Director: MJ Fell

KEISHA & Dr Lori West

Lori West with her hand on the shoulder of Keisha.

KEISHA in 2007

Keisha standing in amongst a field with trees, wrapped in a blanket in 2007