Helping students with diabetes

By Elizabeth Boaz-Montzka

Hello! My name is Elizabeth Boaz-Montzka and I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 46 years; I’m now 54 years old.

I live in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois with my husband and nine-year-old son. We’ve lived here for about three years. I also happen to be Kim Boaz-Wilson’s sister!

My diabetes journey has been an interesting adventure. For many years, I didn’t have medical insurance. I paid for all of my supplies with cash, out of pocket. I lived in the city of Chicago at the time, working as a waitress at a jazz club and studying music and singing.

Because of my crazy life, I checked my blood sugar about 10 times a day. I spent a lot of money on test strips and everything else over the years, but that’s what I had to do. I simply had no other choice if I wanted to live a full life with type 1 diabetes. Fortunately, I was able to find a doctor who gave me bottles of insulin from time to time, and discounts on doctor’s appointments.

In 2005 (when I was 42) I finished my bachelor’s degree in music education and got my first job with medical insurance, as a teacher. Shortly after that, I used my insurance to get my first insulin pump! My A1C dropped significantly!

I’m still a teacher but have switched from music to special education. I finished my special education endorsement last August and am working as a substitute teacher in my local school districts. I have even subbed in my son’s classroom! He’s in the 4th grade and liked that I was there. I figure that will last for about another year…

One day, not long ago, I was a substitute in a kindergarten class at my son’s school. I went in and read the lesson plans and found that a boy in the class had type 1 diabetes and that I should talk to the school nurse about him. The teacher’s notes went on to say that if I was comfortable, I could monitor his blood sugar level with his phone, and that he was very nervous about having a substitute teacher.

I went to the school nurse and said I was comfortable monitoring this child’s blood sugar level on his phone because I have an insulin pump also!

I called attendance when the class arrived that morning, and when I figured out who the student with diabetes was, I asked him to come to my desk because I had a secret to tell him. I pulled my insulin pump out of my pocket and his eyes lit up! We had a good day and he was calm and participated fully in all of the lessons.

As a teacher, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with other students with diabetes. In the state of Illinois, a student with diabetes can obtain a 504 plan. This allows the student to take breaks if needed during important tests (such as the ACT, SAT, and finals) to do all of those things that those of us with diabetes need to do. I have been a proctor for some of those tests.

From what I’ve observed, the other students are very accepting about these breaks and other parts of diabetes maintenance. I’ve heard comments like, “Oh, he has to do that. He has diabetes.” I’ve had students of all ages discover me checking my blood sugar behind the desk. I simply say, “I have type 1 diabetes. I’m just checking my blood sugar.” Many times the response I get is, “Oh, my grandma/pa/mom/sibling has that.” Then we just go about our day.

Having type 1 diabetes is tricky, but with care and attention a person can live a full and happy life. I try to follow a healthy lifestyle. I get exercise, not by going to the gym, but by walking my dog, and walking up and down the stairs in our 3-story townhouse. I like to walk, and I also walk frequently at my job.

I try to eat a healthy diet. For many years now I have eaten a diet full of lots of organic vegetables, brown rice, and organic chicken. We also eat fish and occasionally steak or pork. I like olives, olive oil and avocado—foods full of healthy oils. I drink a lot of water. I don’t drink any soda. I do drink one or two cups of coffee every morning, with stevia as sweetener. I also drink one or two glasses of wine, made from organic grapes, every evening.

Sometimes we get in a hurry and order out for dinner, but we get it from our local pizza restaurant or Asian restaurant, and that seems to be a little healthier for me than the traditional American fast food. My A1C’s for the last year have continually been between 6.2 and 6.3 (and since we got the townhouse and the dog, I’ve been getting more exercise).

There are always ups and downs living with diabetes. But it can be done. And it can be done well. Eat healthy, get exercise, check your blood sugar, take insulin when you need to, and live a fun, full life!

P.S. Don’t forget to eat your favorite treats every now and then, too. I do, and so does my sister!

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