It Took 2 Years Before Doctors Finally Diagnosed Me With Type 1 Diabetes

Katelyn Prominski's doctor dismissed her weight loss, extreme thirst, and brain fog, leaving this top ballet dancer unsure of where to turn. A friend's guidance put her on a path to treatment and healing.

Katelyn Prominski always knew she would be a dancer. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she began dancing in The Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center in the 4th grade.

"Ballet is all I wanted to do," she told Health.

In high school, she spent half the day in classes and the other half training. Her hard work paid off—by graduation, she earned a contract with the San Francisco School of Ballet. Then in 2008, when she was 24, she joined the Pennsylvania Ballet.

"It was the peak of my ballet career. I was riding high, doing soloist and principal roles," Prominski said.

As a dancer, she was used to powering through sprains, tears, and bone spurs. "With ballet, you have such a short time that you can do it as a career. That's why you dance through injuries," Prominski explained. "You keep pushing forward. You ignore all the stuff that's going on because you just want to dance."

Unexplained Symptoms

By 2010, however, Prominski was experiencing puzzling symptoms that couldn't be ignored. "I started to feel hungry all the time, and I was eating a tremendous amount of food, probably two or three times what I ate normally," she recalled. "And I was losing weight. I was down 25 pounds, and I had been thin, to begin with. It was really rough and didn't make sense."

Prominski also had extreme thirst. "I was so thirsty, and I was drinking tons of water all the time," she said.

Like other young adults, Prominski didn't have a primary care doctor at the time. But with the encouragement of her then-boyfriend, Max, a fellow dancer who is now her husband, she made an appointment with her ob-gyn—who dismissed the symptoms.

"When I explained my symptoms and that I was losing weight, my doctor said I should consider myself lucky," she said.

Intense fatigue and confusion were additional symptoms. "I couldn't go down the stairs quickly. My brain had slowed down. I couldn't make words come out of my mouth. I couldn't maintain a conversation. I thought it was my new normal, and I had kind of just accepted it," she said.

Then an even scarier symptom appeared: Her body could not fight off infections. "I always had an infection. Because of my bone spurs, I would often get soft corns. I had one that nearly took me out with a staph infection that wouldn't clear for months," she said.

In May 2011 Prominski underwent foot surgery, but the foot wasn't healing as fast as it should have been. That's when the podiatrist who had been treating her asked about diabetes. "The podiatrist looked at me and said, 'You don't have diabetes, do you?' And I was like, 'Of course I don't have diabetes.' I dismissed it immediately. I was so high-functioning," she said.

Though she wanted nothing more than to keep dancing, Prominski no longer enjoyed it; she had lost that love for dance that she had since childhood. Plus, Prominski realized all of the worsening symptoms made it impossible to continue. She retired in October 2011 at 28 years old.

Her plan for the next several months was to take online classes while joining Max on the road; he'd landed a role in the national tour of Billy Elliot. The week before they headed out, her best friend convinced her to seek medical help again.

The Road to Diagnosis

"I had told [my friend] all of my symptoms," she said. "How I had constant infections, and even a sinus infection would turn into a full-blown sickness. She said, 'I think you have diabetes.' She urged me to ask for a full blood panel." To appease her friend, Prominski made the appointment and explained the situation to the physician. "The doctor looked at me like I was crazy but agreed to do a full blood panel," Prominski said.

The results came back a few days later, and they showed that she had hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid. The doctor asked her to follow up with an endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in hormone-related conditions. "I made the appointment, and when I showed up, the nurse said to me, 'You're here for your diabetes.' And I said, 'No, I'm here for my thyroid,'" she recalled.

"The nurse told me to sit down and said, 'Let's take your blood sugar. If it's over 120, you have diabetes.' It came back that my blood sugar was at 600. I was in shock. I honestly had no idea what diabetes even was." The nurse advised her to go to the emergency room; with blood sugar that high, she could go into a coma, the nurse warned. "I waited in the ER for hours. They misunderstood that I had never been diagnosed with diabetes and had no idea what was going on or what to do," Prominski said.

Eventually, she left the ER and connected with a doctor from the endocrinologist's office who recommended getting a blood glucose monitor at the drugstore. The doctor taught her how to check her blood sugar and asked her to keep track of the readings. If she had two consecutive readings of over 250 then she would need to start taking insulin injections immediately. The monitor readings showed exactly that, and she quickly learned how to take insulin.

Finally, she was officially diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this autoimmune disease causes the pancreas to stop producing the hormone insulin, which helps move sugar from the blood and into cells throughout the body. Without insulin, sugar builds up in the blood, and symptoms set in, including extreme thirst and unexplained weight loss, just like Prominski experienced.

"It was super scary. Nobody knew how this happened to me. I had no family history. But I had all the classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes, even though I was performing at such a high level," Prominski reflected.

Life After Diagnosis

After being diagnosed, life changed tremendously. "I was doing a crazy amount of testing and a minimum of 4-5 insulin shots a day," Prominski said, to help manage blood sugar.

A few years later, she bought a continuous glucose monitor that made keeping track of blood sugar much easier. "It gives me readings every five minutes and shows the trends of how my blood sugar is drifting up or shooting down," Prominski explained.

Knowing that her blood sugar was being monitored at all times gave her the freedom to get back to performing. "I started to feel like myself again. I had been in so much pain and had so many injuries that it made me lose my love of dance. But once I got on insulin, I felt so much better," Prominski said. "I realized: I do want to dance! This cloud parted, and I got myself healed."

Now living in New York City with Max, she started auditioning for Broadway shows. In May 2018, their son was born. "Thankfully, [people with diabetes] can have children and can do it in a healthful way," she said.

Prominski also found comfort and support in the type 1 diabetes community. "When I finally got a diagnosis, I found other people who also had this diagnosis," she recalled. "I found others to connect with who were such wonderful resources to discuss what I was going through, and if my symptoms were normal." One group in particular, Beyond Type 1, was a big source of support.

"Having diabetes today, some people are still embarrassed. But there's no reason to be," she noted. "I was at the playground with my son recently, and a dad came over. He had seen my glucose monitor, and he told me his 2-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed. There is so much solidarity and understanding."

Prominski now teaches ballet classes, and her heart jumps whenever one of the students opens up about having diabetes. "Young dancers see me, and they see that I've made it and that I have diabetes, too," she said.

Looking back at the journey—from the first worrisome symptoms to diagnosis and treatment—she realized that the most important move was to be her own advocate. She encourages others to be their own advocates as well.

"I had the telltale signs," she said. "If you're not satisfied with the answers you're being given, keep searching. Go to a different doctor. Go to a different type of doctor. If you know in your heart something is wrong, don't stop searching."

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