At six-years-old, Crystal Bowersox was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, the autoimmune disorder that researchers say affects more than 1.2 million Americans.
The former American Idol finalist says the potentially life-threatening illness, where the pancreas stops producing insulin, turned her young life upside down.
“Well, I was in second grade, my teachers had taken away my recess breaks from me because I was taking too many bathroom breaks and water fountain breaks. And they thought that I was just trying to cut class,” said Bowersox, now a successful musician who appeared on Season 9 of American Idol.
Doctors eventually discovered that Bowersox’ glucose levels were so low that she had to be hospitalized while being taught how to manage her diabetes diagnoses.
Commonly known as juvenile on-set diabetes, Type 1 occurs at every age and in people of every race, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
There are more adults who have Type 1 diabetes than children. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin and the body breaks down the carbohydrates people eat into blood glucose (also called blood sugar), which it uses for energy.
Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives, according to the ADA.
“It was scary when I was diagnosed. I remember hiding under the hospital bed because I didn’t want to take the shots,” Bowersox said. “I didn’t understand at six-years-old what was happening inside of my body. I remember what it was like being a kid in a rural community and I was the only kid, as far as I knew, who had Type 1 diabetes and it felt very lonely.”
At one point during her run on American Idol, Bowersox kept quiet about the affects the hectic schedule was having on her and she didn’t properly manage her blood glucose levels. That led to her being hospitalized and producers decided to take her off of the show.
“I was really sick,” Bowersox said.
She convinced the producers to let her remain in the competition and she made it all the way to the finals, eventually landing a recording contract.
Now, when she isn’t performing, Bowersox embarks on a different kind of tour. She visits ADA sponsored diabetes camps as a Lilly Diabetes Ambassador where she shares her story and helps to inspire camp goers to have fun and reach their dreams while managing diabetes.
Earlier this month, she visited “Camp Charm City,” at the Johns Hopkins University Athletic Center in Baltimore where, among other things, she participated in a “Camp Idol” talent show to showcase the various musical talents of the campers.
“It’s important for kids with diabetes of any age to build connections with each other,” Bowersox said. “All of us with Type 1 diabetes just want to be able to breathe and be normal and I want the kids to understand that they can accomplish their goals and they shouldn’t be limited by anything.”
One message Bowersox says she continues to provide to camps is that, regardless of how well she watched her diet and exercises, she will always need to use her insulin and test her glucose.
“So my mission is just to raise awareness and to be inspired by and help inspire the camp,” Bowersox said.
As for the “Camp Idol” competition, she said, “they all get the Golden Ticket. They all go to Hollywood.”