Growing up, Ariel Brown didn’t want anyone to know she had type 1 diabetes, but now she is telling her story as a way to help others with diabetes cope with the disease.
Next month, Brown, who is a diabetes lifestyle coach, will release her book Pumped 4 My Journey, which will be available February 18 on Amazon and Brown’s website.
Diagnosed at a Young Age
Brown was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002 when she was twelve. Her parents, Rev. Michael Brown and Paulette Brown, noticed she was displaying symptoms of the disease and took her to the pediatrician’s office for testing.
“My blood sugars were so high when I arrived at MCV (now Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU) that I could have ended up in a diabetic coma, but I walked into the hospital without any problems,” she says.
She did a good job of hiding the disease from people, especially her classmates at school. “Diabetes made me feel ugly and very embarrassed. Like your average teenager, I wanted to blend in with others and not think I was different than everyone else,” says Brown, who grew up in Prince George County.
Having type 1 diabetes is challenging for anyone, especially a young teen.
“The jokes that people would make about diabetes and being depressed are the two that stand out to me the most,” she says. “When I used to hear the jokes people would make about diabetes, I would become very upset and often cry.”
She was grateful for having supportive parents who encouraged her not to worry about what was being said, but instead to remember to be proud of who she was.
Impact of a Diabetes Educator
When she was first diagnosed with the disease, Brown experienced bouts of depression. Before prescribing an antidepressant, her doctor suggested she meet with a diabetes educator. When Brown met Sallie Bartholomew, she experience a kinship with someone who knew what she was going through emotionally and physically.
“I felt in that very moment some relief because what I was facing, she already faced and she had the solutions to help me,” Brown says. “In my twenty years of living with type 1 diabetes, I have not been prescribed any anti-depressants, and I believe it came from my doctor observing my pain and finding a solution to my problem.”
Brown, who has always been interested in the medical field, wanted to help children living with diabetes. She became a junior volunteer at John Randolph Medical Center and interned at her pediatrician’s office when she was sixteen. She also helped with children at the summer camp she attended.
“I was being bullied and picked on a lot at the time. I can remember walking down the hall and passing by the daycare. I stopped at the door and just smiled at the little toddlers. The daycare teacher asked if I wanted to come in and my response was yes,” Brown says. “From that day on, the daycare teacher allowed me to come and help take care of the children.”
Years later, Brown received her child development associate degree and worked in different roles caring for children. For the past three years, she has been working as a certified medical assistant at Virginia Endocrinology.
“I absolutely love being a certified medical assistant because I can work with an amazing endocrinologist Dr. Kristin Fabiato and nurse practitioner/diabetes educator Marsha Di Peppe. I have learned so much working with these providers,” she says.
Brown loves the relationships she builds with her patients. “The best thing about my job is meeting other people who have type 1 diabetes. Growing up with diabetes, I did not meet a lot of people who looked like me and now I am,” she says.
Becoming a Grateful Parent
While her work brings her great joy, her most rewarding experience is being the mother of ten-year-old Kaliya, whom she calls her “miracle baby” because she had a difficult pregnancy due to her disease. She had to make several trips to the emergency room because her blood sugars dropped so low that she passed out.
“I can remember this one time on the back of the ambulance that I woke up and the squad explained to me that if this would continue to happen, I could have a miscarriage or even lose my life. I was very afraid my whole pregnancy because I did not want to lose her, but my faith in God would not allow me to give up. I had to make sure my diabetes was very well managed because I did not want to develop complications or have my baby born with health concerns,” she says.
Her worry melted away when Kaliya was born healthy with no issues or complications. “God knew I needed her in my life, and I am forever grateful to be her mommy. I am truly blessed to have her as my daughter,” Brown says.
It was her daughter’s fear of Brown’s diabetes that led Brown to write Pumped 4 My Journey.
“In 2019, I asked my endocrinologist, Dr. Ben Phillips, to help me find a book about diabetes. I wanted to be able to share a book with Kaliya so she could understand diabetes better. We searched the internet, but we could not find any books that she could relate to.”
The doctor suggested Brown write a book about living with diabetes, but she had no interest in becoming an author. She forgot about the book until 2021 when her aunt whom she was close to passed away.
“I became very depressed. I began to ask God what do I do now that she has gone and slowly God brought the book back to mind. I continued to ignore the sign until January 2022,” she says. “I will never forget that day I was sitting in my living room watching church when I heard something say go write the book. I got up from my chair, grabbed a pen and paper, and I began to write through the tears and pain.”
Brown hopes her book will inspire and encourage people living with type 1 diabetes
“The original plan was to just write a book and give it to my daughter, but God revealed so much more to me. I want to travel the world sharing my story and connecting with others on their journey. I want to let people living with diabetes know I am here for them,” she says. “I look back at that 12-year-old girl who was diagnosed. She needed Pumped 4 My Journey and I am here to give her life back to her. I want to reach as many children, families, and anyone living with type 1 diabetes to let them know I have created Pumped 4 My Journey especially for you.”