Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes after Being Displaced by Hurricane Katrina


April Lawrence was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the midst of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Read about how April took charge of her diabetes treatment while rebuilding her life in Atlanta after being displaced. She’s also featured in Beyond Type 2’s #BeyondPowerful social media campaign. Want to share how you’re living an empowered life with type 2 diabetes? Click here. 

I’ve been working in healthcare since I was 18 years old. With that kind of experience, you would think I would be on top of my game when it came to my health, but that wasn’t the case. The year 2005 would be a life-changing year that would force me to make necessary changes to my health—whether I was ready or not.

I’m originally from New Orleans and was one of the thousands of people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. After the hurricane, I moved to Atlanta to put my life back together. Dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane and all the stress that came with it led to depression, and the formation of bad eating and drinking habits. I used food as a coping mechanism as I started to rebuild my life. 

It was during this time that I noticed some significant changes in my body. I was feeling lethargic, always thirsty, had frequent dry mouth and I had a persisting yeast infection, something I’d never had before.

Finding a physician, especially in a new city, to help me understand my symptoms proved to be difficult at first. The first one I found told me I was fine, but I knew that wasn’t true. So my mom suggested I see my grandmother’s doctor. My grandmother’s doctor performed a routine exam, including testing my blood sugar—it was 21.4 mmol/L385 mg/dL. My potassium levels were extremely low and I was also dehydrated. My new doctor sent me straight to the hospital where I was admitted for five days. Going from the whirlwind of losing everything in Katrina to being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was overwhelming. Also, I probably rolled the genetic dice and can attribute my diabetes to my father’s side of the family, where it runs rampant.

Adjusting to Life with Diabetes in a New City

After my hospital stay, I was doing well for a few months even though I had very little information about diabetes and mostly listened to my dad and other family members. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. I was admitted to the hospital again for five days, exactly one year after I was admitted the first time. Prior to my second hospitalization, I was experiencing the same symptoms as before with the exception of the yeast infection but including the extreme low potassium levels. However this time, my doctors told me I was anemic.

In 2017, I decided to have weight loss surgery due to diabetes and other health issues. Prior to making the decision to have the surgery, I lost weight on my own but gained it all back. Diabetes damaged my metabolism which prompted my decision. It was the best decision for me and helped me get my blood sugar under control. But even now, I still check my blood sugar regularly because I am terrified that it will get out of control and lead to health issues again. At the end of the day, I’m very happy I had the surgery and have lost 85 pounds so far. You have to remember that it requires significant lifestyle changes. Depending on your situation, that could mean changing everything—from the way you eat to the way you celebrate with friends and hang out with your family.

In the African-American community, tradition is everything. So along with my own personal battles, I was also adjusting to diabetes while still adhering to the traditions that shaped my life. We’ve revamped quite a few recipes in my family. So instead of using pork, we use turkey. Instead of using a lot of salt, we cut back and found salt substitutes. We’ve also incorporated sugar-free desserts and found ways to cut the sugar from other recipes. Of course, you can’t win them all but baby steps are better than none at all.

My Career in the Healthcare Helps Me Connect with Others with Type 2 Diabetes

It’s critical to have the necessary information to deal with type 2 diabetes and the information I received about diabetes was mostly vague and not very helpful. This was exacerbated by those, including healthcare providers, who find out you have type 2 diabetes. Sometimes, they look at you differently and with judgment, as if it’s your fault you have diabetes. It can make you feel like you’re alone. Having a safe space to openly talk about a disease that can be hard to manage can make all the difference. Despite the negative stereotypes about type 2 diabetes some may believe, no one chooses to live with diabetes. I didn’t wake up one morning and say “Hey, you know what I want? Type 2 diabetes and all the possible complications that go with it!” This chronic illness is life-changing.

Working in healthcare, I’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly of diabetes. Having access to a specialist who talked to me about it and the ways I can maintain a healthy life helped me. I was able to connect with my patients who were living with type 2 diabetes because they felt comfortable talking to someone who understood their journey. We share information with each other if we think it’ll be helpful. We also check on and encourage each other to live our best lives with diabetes.

I am always giving advice and letting people, especially African-American women, know how important it is to take care of ourselves. Diabetes leads to so many other health issues such as the increased risk of a stroke and heart disease, and people just don’t know it. Education and promoting diabetes awareness are the keys to changing the perception of type 2 diabetes by society and empowering people to take care of themselves.

I’m thankful for this website to give people with type 2 diabetes comfort and support. If you aren’t a person with diabetes but know someone who is, embrace them, talk to them and show them healthier ways of living so they can manage it well. Never make anyone with type 2 feel bad about having it—they didn’t choose diabetes, diabetes chose them. If you’re living with diabetes, you are not alone. Reach out and seek the answers to your questions about self-management. Remember, you can control it and may even be able to beat it. Trust me, you can live a great life with it.

WRITTEN BY April Lawrence, POSTED , UPDATED 06/29/22

April is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana and has been living with type 2 diabetes since December 2005. In 2017, She had vertical sleeve gastrectomy weight loss surgery and has kept off 85 pounds since. She's currently resides in Atlanta with her daughter and enjoys spending her time with family and watching New Orleans Saints football. Her motto is that "I am in control of diabetes and diabetes doesn't have control over me."