A talk with Andy Bell on thriving with diabetes

Andy Bell:Experiencing diabetes beyond just numbers

I recently had the privilege of catching up with Andy Bell. A good friend and part of the diabetes community, Andy shared his story, which is packed with perseverance and resilience.

Andy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1994 at the age of 14. His experience, like that of many others living with diabetes, has been a rollercoaster ride. During our conversation, Andy touched on his diagnosis story, how living with diabetes has impacted his life, his unique career path, and how he manages now that he’s a father.

Recongnizing the signs of diabetes

Andy vividly recounted how he lost a lot of weight and experienced extreme thirst, a common symptom of diabetes. He shared his frustration with diabetes limiting his options for serving in the military — a crucial part of his family’s legacy. This setback, however, never stopped Andy from wanting to make a difference.

Paving his own paths: Fitness, law enforcement, and jiu-jitsu

Always interested in health and fitness, Andy found solace and strength in being a personal trainer, a profession that allowed him to help others while maintaining his health. Later, when an opportunity at JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) presented itself, Andy jumped at it, wanting to contribute more to the diabetes community. Around the same time, he also became a certified yoga instructor.

However, he still yearned for service-oriented roles. He soon found his calling in local law enforcement, a field that required mental, physical, and emotional strength. Andy also pursued his passion for jiu-jitsu, eventually earning the rank of a black belt. Andy continues to practice today and says it continues to be a meaningful outlet for him.

The next diagnosis: Addison's disease

Andy shared he was recently diagnosed with another autoimmune condition in addition to diabetes and thyroid disease – Addison’s disease. After feeling consistently tired, he was diagnosed with this rare condition where the adrenal gland does not produce enough cortisol. He now takes steroids daily and has to manage his stress levels carefully. Living now with three chronic conditions, Andy exemplifies resilience and determination.

Parenting, diabetes, and beyond

Andy is not only a law enforcement officer and a jiu-jitsu black belt; he is also a caring father. He strives to be the best father and husband each day. For him, this journey is about learning, adapting, and inspiring others while he manages his health.

Andy’s journey is a testament to the spirit of resilience and determination. Neither diabetes nor Addison’s disease has stopped him from leading an enriching life filled with service, health, and happiness. I am very proud to know him and share his inspiring story.

Full transcript and show notes

00:07 Introduction and Guest Welcome
00:30 Andy’s Early Life and Diabetes Diagnosis
05:21 The Impact of Diabetes on Adolescence
06:47 The Importance of Mental Health in Diabetes Management
08:32 Transitioning to Adulthood with Diabetes
10:13 Andy’s Journey into Jiu-Jitsu
12:04 The Intersection of Diabetes and Physical Activity
20:55 Andy’s Aspirations and Challenges in Joining the Military
21:03 Transitioning into Law Enforcement with Diabetes
25:35 Experiences and Challenges as a Law Enforcement Officer with Diabetes
29:22 The Need for Diabetes Education
30:03 Dealing with Another Autoimmune Diagnosis
32:31 The Impact of Addison’s Disease on Life and Career
35:19 Returning to Law Enforcement After Health Challenges
41:16 The Impact of Diabetes on Parenting
46:09 The Role of Yoga and Mindfulness in Managing Health
53:05 Inspiring Others to Serve Despite Health Challenges
55:26 Looking Forward: Health, Family, and Service

[00:00:08] Scott K. Johnson: Hey, everybody, thanks so much for joining us today. I’m really excited because I’ve got a friend of mine, Andy Bell, on the show, and I’m excited to shine some light on Andy’s story. There are so many fascinating things about it. so Andy, welcome and thanks so much for joining us.

[00:00:27] Andy Bell: I appreciate it. It’s good to be with you, Scott. Always good to see you.

[00:00:32] Scott K. Johnson: likewise, So let’s maybe start with just a brief story of your connection to diabetes and when you were diagnosed. That type of thing.

[00:00:41] Andy Bell: Okay. I was 14; it was 1994, way back in the day.

[00:00:49] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

[00:00:52] Andy Bell I lost a lot of weight. I was already a slim kid, so I didn’t have a lot of weight to lose. My parents, like a lot of other parents probably, with kids who were showing the symptoms around that time, around that age, adolescence, chalked up what I was experiencing to just that change, you know, going through puberty, and so what would have normally tipped my parents off for my symptoms as something, maybe being off, they just dismissed it for a little while.

And my mom’s always felt terrible about that because she feels like she felt like she missed an opportunity to get me to help sooner. But we only knew what we knew. I remember I was on a golf course with one of my best friends and, me and him and his dad. And, I had that unquenchable thirst and I remember telling them I’m going to, I was so thirsty.

It was like a summer day. I’m like, there was, was a par three or a hole that had like a green, like a pond with it looked green cause it was on the golf course. It had a lot of chemicals, and I told them, I said, I’m, I was so thirsty. I said I’m going to drink from that pond. And my buddy and his dad were like, are you crazy?

But, you were like around five. So you may I don’t, do you remember?

[00:02:32] Scott K. Johnson: I don’t remember much about it. No. Yeah.

[00:02:35] Andy Bell: So I was so thirsty and they, obviously were like, that’s not right. So anyway, yeah, I

[00:02:42] Scott K. Johnson: got this mental, this picture of, you, just like face down in a, in this

[00:02:49] Andy Bell: Slurping

[00:02:49] Scott K. Johnson: pond of algae

[00:02:49] Andy Bell: the pond.

Yeah.

[00:02:51] Scott K. Johnson: Dude, that’s crazy

[00:02:52] Andy Bell: Yeah, it was, yeah, it was, everybody’s got a, their diagnosis story is everybody had their own share of kind of wild symptoms.

[00:03:07] Scott K. Johnson: Yep.

[00:03:09] Andy Bell: And then my mom, and then finally, the last straw kinda was I was watching TV and I remember saying, I can’t see the picture on the TV, cause my blood sugar was so high my eyes were starting to, feel it.

And so I said something to my mom, and she was like, okay. This is not growing pains. This is not normal. We called my pediatrician, and she feels bad about this. But again, we couldn’t do it; we did the best we could. But she called my pediatrician, and it was like a Thursday or Friday, and they couldn’t get us in for a couple of days.

We had to wait through the weekend, and then he did a, tested my blood sugar, tested my urine, and he came back, and he said, I’m confident that Andy has type one diabetes. You need to go to the hospital right now. And so it was, all a, It all happened very quickly and, and, yeah, it was a shocking experience to be 14 and to, now you’re going to the hospital for this thing you know nothing about.

actually, my pediatrician’s office was in my neighborhood, near my neighborhood, and we asked if I had time to go home and pack a bag. he was hesitant to even allow us to do that because he knew. The situation was pretty dire, so we got to the hospital. Of course, they said, I don’t remember exactly since it’s been almost 30 years, but I want to say they, they estimated my sugar to be 800, 900, something like that,

[00:04:57] Scott K. Johnson: Wow. Yeah.

[00:04:58] Andy Bell: So they were really surprised that I walked in, that I wasn’t in a coma or something, but spent

the next couple of days

[00:05:06] Scott K. Johnson: did you have to stay in the hospital? One of the things

I remember that my diagnosis was a kind of extended stay at that time in the hospital. I think that’s still, that still happens in some cases now, but that’s quite the norm. What do you remember about that?

[00:05:22] Andy Bell: yeah, it was; I want to say it was two weeks and a week or two, but it was overwhelming. It was like,

[00:05:34] Scott K. Johnson: Absolutely. Yeah. you totally,

[00:05:37] Andy Bell: yeah, back in 94, I’ll never forget also when we got to the emergency room, one of the nurses. Just casually said, Oh, you’re not going to be able to have candy anymore.

So all of a sudden it’s I’m in the hospital. I don’t know, it’s, in hindsight, I can laugh at that, but it was all. It all hit me at once, and I was like, wait a minute, what? Like candy? And then are you gonna have to take injections? And it was just, it was a ton to process at age 14.

but thankfully I had an incredibly supportive, support system, my parents,

my family, and my friends made all the difference,

[00:06:25] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah. It’s, really something. with, especially with type one diabetes, where it’s, you have that diagnosis, you go into the hospital, and it’s like the world comes crashing down around you because

everything changes and it’s life or death,

[00:06:42] Andy Bell: Absolutely.

[00:06:43] Scott K. Johnson: You have to learn so much in such a short period of time. It’s scary.

[00:06:48] Andy Bell: In hindsight, Scott, I wish I would have sought to speak with someone like a professional just to help me process it. In the hospital, the University of Missouri was great, don’t get me wrong, they had an incredible program there. My pediatrician was, like, honestly, I want to say world-renowned. David Goldstein was amazing at the University of Missouri. and so they had somebody there, I don’t know, maybe a social worker or somebody in place that, that helped me process some of those, thoughts and feelings, but If you’re listening to this and you’re newly diagnosed, and you’re, especially if you’re a teenager, if, you have the means to do it, I highly recommend you go speak with a professional just to help you cope with everything that’s been thrust upon You you have a, large responsibility that is, placed squarely on your shoulders. And, at the end of the day, even if you have a supportive family, supportive friends, and supportive network, it still is up to you to, make those decisions about what you’re going to eat and,

[00:08:01] Scott K. Johnson: yeah, that’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with.

[00:08:04] Andy Bell: Yes it was.

[00:08:06] Scott K. Johnson: agree with that and I’m a fan of exploring some of that, the mental health aspects of living with diabetes because, the way I see it is if I don’t have my head on straight, I, can’t do the things I need to do to take good care of it. And if you’re, especially at that age, you’re going through so many just transitions in life. Even without diabetes, it’s a difficult time.

[00:08:33] Andy Bell: I remember returning to school, 14, and you go back, and you immediately want to try to fit in, or at least I did,

[00:08:42] Scott K. Johnson: yeah, totally.

[00:08:43] Andy Bell: in, trying to, try to find your place in your school, but yet, Behind the scenes, I was, processing this, brand new thing that I knew nothing about and people were asking me questions and it was a wild time and, nowadays, back in 94, it sounds so funny to say that, but there wasn’t cell phones, there wasn’t social networks, so I didn’t have the, I knew of one other person in my school. And, it’s, times are a little different now, but, It’s still incredibly important to, to get some support and, so

[00:09:29] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah. fast forwarding a bunch of years, when we first met, I met you at a Children with Diabetes conference, despite the name, it’s great for children with diabetes, but it’s also a fantastic resource for adults living with diabetes. There’s a terrific adult track, and there are tracks for parents and grandparents and siblings and all that stuff.

So a terrific conference. you were working for JDRF at the time. Talk a little bit about that. you getting involved in advocacy.

[00:10:13] Andy Bell: Yeah. A long time ago. So before I got involved with JDRF, I was a personal trainer, and, I was, I think, I found Kerri’s blog, and immediately I was like, Oh, that’s awesome. Like maybe I can share some, of my experience. Cause I was, I’ve always been really big on fitness and health.

And, so I reached out to Kerri, and I started blogging. I was a terrible writer by the way. So thank goodness you can’t find those blogs anymore. But I started to get more involved and, I, there’s a camp here in our town called Camp Hickory Hill. I started to be involved with them, and through the camp, I met somebody who was spearheading the outreach efforts for JDRF.

[00:11:16] Scott K. Johnson: yeah.

[00:11:16] Andy Bell: And she knew I was looking to get out of personal training. Long story short, I ended up getting a job with JDRF. And at JDRF, I had the opportunity to go to some of these conferences. And, that was, awesome because I could connect with people. And that’s where we met, like you said, in, I think it was Orlando.

And that was a lot of fun. We played basketball and got to meet you and Kerri in person. You guys were like larger-than-life diabetes celebrities.

[00:11:53] Scott K. Johnson: Crazy internet, people, yeah.

[00:11:56] Andy Bell: that was a great conference. And I went there a couple of years and got to connect with people in person and hear from different professionals.

[00:12:05] Scott K. Johnson: Did it, was it, challenging to both live with diabetes and work in diabetes, or did that, did that kind of fill your cup at the same time?

[00:12:20] Andy Bell: I was super excited to get the opportunity to work for JDRF because I wanted to connect with people. I wanted to reach out to let people know that I know what you’re going through. and I really, no, that, that was, I really loved, I worked for JDRF for six years, I worked for JDRF –

I worked, my first three years in their outreach department in an, and that was a home-based opportunity, which was unique,

[00:12:58] Scott K. Johnson: at that time when there wasn’t all the big remote working and stuff like that.

[00:13:03] Andy Bell: was, so I was in, I’m in central Missouri. And so initially they were going to put me in maybe the St. Louis or Kansas City JDRF, but that didn’t work out. So, I was doing a lot of my job from home, and then an opportunity came at headquarters in New York City, working in communications.

And so I took that opportunity, and I just, JDRF has raised a lot of money, and they’re a fundraising organization. And. We were trying to, I was trying to do my part to, connect newly diagnosed people to, other families, to other, people that knew what we were going through.

And so I really enjoyed that opportunity. And ultimately, actually, I got laid off twice from JDRF; in 08, there were hard economic times, and I was low on the totem pole. They kicked a bunch of people from national, and it was pretty devastating. And life goes on.

[00:14:15] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

[00:14:17] Andy Bell: and long story short, when I went back to JDRF, did, work three more years, and then another, they had a new management marketing communications merged and they got rid of a bunch of other people. So I got laid off and ended up coming back home to Missouri, and, That’s when I learned about the local law enforcement academy here and started my career in law enforcement.

[00:14:49] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. Let’s, talk about that a little bit. Actually, before we get into that, tell me when did jiu-jitsu enter the picture? Was that before you transitioned to law enforcement or

[00:15:00] Andy Bell: yeah, jiu-jitsu was before law enforcement. I got started in jiu-jitsu, so I trained at a Gracie gym here in Columbia. My, my. One of my longtime friends, Sean

[00:15:11] Scott K. Johnson: I can see here you’ve got your, what do they call it? The Gi or

[00:15:16] Andy Bell: Yeah, I just actually came from practice.

[00:15:19] Scott K. Johnson: I love it. That’s awesome.

[00:15:21] Andy Bell: I started, we started, Sean and I started around 03. so it’s been pretty consistent for 20 years or so. And jiu-jitsu, so I’m a black belt. Professor, technically. And has been like a really good outlet for me, Scott.

I know you’ve always been a big basketball player and like you’ve found a lot of like joy in playing

basketball. And so that’s what jiu-jitsu has been for me. It’s been a, it’s been a really good outlet for me to channel the challenges that come with managing type 1 diabetes. I have additional autoimmune illnesses.

It’s, become the perfect outlet for me to channel just some of the hardships that come with life. And, so yeah, it’s been really good. And it’s been very, it’s been very helpful in my law enforcement career too.

[00:16:23] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, I can only imagine. With the jiu-jitsu and diabetes, are there things that you, with any physical activity, we’re always balancing our blood sugars and things like that, but what about, I don’t know, do you wear a pump? Are you doing shots? Are you thinking about that kind of stuff?

[00:16:42] Andy Bell: Yeah, so I’m pretty stubborn. I’m a pretty stubborn person, so I always, for many years, steered away from the pump. A lot of that was because of jiu-jitsu because I was afraid to have anything attached to me.

[00:17:00] Scott K. Johnson: Sure.

[00:17:00] Andy Bell: So it wasn’t until this is ’24 now. It wasn’t until probably 2020, maybe 2021, that I started wearing a CGM.

My endocrinologists have always said I’ve had pretty good management of my diabetes with multiple daily injections and finger sticks. That took a lot of hard work, but I finally got into a CGM two or three years ago, and much to my surprise, it hasn’t been, it hasn’t been an issue.

It’s been knocked off a few times, just in training, but so I use a CGM. I don’t use a pump. I’ve still never pumped. It’s something that I’m giving more consideration to now, I’m a father, and. It’s, maybe more, something more of an automated system, potentially. I haven’t quite made that jump yet, but I’ve had a lot of success with the CGM, and I really like my CGM.

[00:18:13] Scott K. Johnson: yeah, and it’s good to hear that, that it hasn’t gotten in the way of your activities or anything like that. I think

[00:18:20] Andy Bell: No. Yeah.

[00:18:22] Scott K. Johnson: I can definitely see why it’s a concern, especially with something as physically intense as jiu-jitsu, where there’s a lot of contact, a lot of rolling around on the floor and stuff like that,

[00:18:33] Andy Bell: I wear one on my arm now, and I have a little brace that I use to cover it. Unfortunately, technology isn’t perfect. It’s convenient, and it’s really helpful, but it’s not perfect. So I’m always fearful of getting it knocked off because, unfortunately, insurance doesn’t, they don’t, cover those that, that, necessarily that get, knocked off in, in, physical activity or whatever.

For the most part, it hasn’t been an issue, but jiu-jitsu has been great at helping me process all the stuff that you deal with the mental stress it’s great physical, everything. So yeah,

[00:19:19] Scott K. Johnson: How about, like dealing with lows or things like that? Are there other guys that you practice with aware of your diabetes and know how to help you?

[00:19:29] Andy Bell: Yep. They are. Yep. And it’s never a problem. if I start to feel any hypoglycemia come on, I’ll just take a break, sit out,

[00:19:39] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

[00:19:41] Andy Bell: actually, I just met a kid, a young man, 15, 16, the other day. He’s new to our gym. He’s a wrestler. He does high school wrestling.

And I just, it’s so awesome. he wears a pump. And one day I came into the gym and I introduced myself. And, he was, he looked pale and he was slurping down some sugar. And, And he made a comment, and I said it, so it was just, it’s cool too, it’s cool to meet other guys and girls that are not letting diabetes get in their way from, competing in, wrestling, jujitsu, any sports, yeah.

[00:20:27] Scott K. Johnson: I bet it made him feel good to know that there’s at least one other person with diabetes

in the scene who knows what he’s dealing with. So that’s great.

[00:20:35] Andy Bell: Yeah. It was cool. Like we immediately, you know how it is. You see somebody out, out in, out in, the world and you immediately have a bond, Yeah.

[00:20:46] Scott K. Johnson: So one of the things that you mentioned when we initially talked prior to recording was you had aspirations of serving in the military, became of age and that didn’t work out so well because of your diabetes, but you were able to transition that into law enforcement.

Let’s talk about that a little bit.

[00:21:06] Andy Bell: Yeah, so that’s, yeah, that’s been interesting, when I was 18, 19, I checked with every single branch of the military, and I had already heard that they didn’t allow people type one in, So I checked with every single branch and got turned down for reserves for any, anything has to do with the military. So that was pretty crappy, just, my father’s a Vietnam veteran, my cousins have all served, my grandparents served, my aunt was killed in the military. so that took away a very viable path for me, something that would have been a real natural fit, I think. so, you know, life goes on, and I went on about my business and pursued other things. And I hope, I understand why the military doesn’t want people with type 1–and I know there are exceptions. I actually know of a few people who were able to serve, who were already in the military, when they got diagnosed and then were able to, I guess successfully show that they could keep doing what they were doing with type 1.

So I get why we would be seen as probably a liability to the military, but I hope that someday, as technology continues to improve, that’s something that people with type one can do because we can pretty much do whatever we want now. If you’re with the U.S. government and you’re watching this video and you’re in charge of recruiting, it’s time to, it’s time to make a change.

[00:22:58] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

[00:22:59] Andy Bell: so to get into law enforcement, I was 35 when I got into the academy, so I was a little bit older, but so that, to be able to be in the law enforcement academy, like that was really never, to, be a police officer is something a lot of people think about and it’s something I thought about, but I never really gave it any serious thought until that opportunity presented itself when I, came back home from JDRF, and I’ll never forget how great it felt like the first couple of days of, academy.

I was looking around, and I got goosebumps because I knew that this was exactly where I needed to be and this was the experience that I missed out on with the military. And, I am extremely appreciative that I’ve gotten to be a law enforcement officer. It’s been eight coming up on nine years, that I’ve been in, that I’ve been a law enforcement officer.

And, again, I just feel. Really lucky to have been able to serve in that role.

So I was talking to my wife this morning about coming on your show; If I can inspire one person with type one to go into law enforcement as a career, then that’s a success.

Then I’ve done a good thing. And that was one of the big reasons why I wanted to talk to hopefully inspire people. If you have a, if you have a, a draw towards the military or service of some type, like I, it’s totally doable. And, cause when I was 14, there wasn’t, I didn’t, there wasn’t a lot of those.

I didn’t know of any people really who were diabetic, and I certainly didn’t know any people who were in the military or cops or anything. that’s a definitely good option for people with type 1. I know, I actually know quite a few type 1 officers or officers with type 1. Yeah,

[00:25:21] Scott K. Johnson: And how did that, did your diabetes, were there extra hoops you had to jump through? Or ways that you had to show your department that it wouldn’t be a problem for you?

[00:25:36] Andy Bell: Yeah, so the

 

[00:25:37] Andy Bell: physical to get on with the city was, I definitely, this was like 8 or 9 years ago. I had to bring in handwritten logs and glucose logs to show that I had good sensitivity; when a low blood sugar was coming on, they wanted to see that I had control. They wanted to see that I was physically healthy, so I definitely had to jump through some hoops.

But as long as you’re taking care of yourself, and as long as you’re responsible and can demonstrate that you know what you’re doing, you’re not going to put your employer in any bad position by not staying on top of your blood sugars, then you should be good to go.

[00:26:20] Scott K. Johnson: and what about fellow officers? Did you also have to earn their trust, right? Because you’re out there and

[00:26:27] Andy Bell: Sure.

[00:26:28] Scott K. Johnson: you’re protecting them and vice versa.

[00:26:32] Andy Bell: It’s never been an issue.

[00:26:34] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

What about, have you ever encountered a diabetes situation out there?

[00:26:40] Andy Bell: I was going to say, I can honestly say that there have been maybe two times in my career where we were running to a call or I was responding to something, and I was on the verge of having a low blood sugar but I was like actively treating it. There have been several times where I was actively treating my blood sugar, you know, on the way to a call for service, just because I knew either that it was gonna go low or that it was going low, but it’s never been an issue I’ve been fortunate in my almost 30 years with diabetes, I have not gone into, I’ve not lost consciousness, I’ve never been hospitalized, for hyperglycemia, I’ve pretty diligently managed it. It’s not to say that even if you diligently manage your diabetes you won’t have an issue because it happens. I’ve been really fortunate that I haven’t had an issue. It hasn’t been an issue for me.

And we have regular physicals, and it’s not a problem.

[00:27:49] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, that’s really good to hear. Have you ever…

[00:27:52] Andy Bell: It’s challenging, but it’s not a problem. 

[00:27:54] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, of course. Have you ever encountered someone out in the field who had diabetes and needed help? And, in that case, I imagine it was helpful for you to understand a little.

[00:28:06] Andy Bell: Yes. Definitely. Yeah. Yeah. Yep. I’ve had people in custody that I’ve actually recognized it.

I’ve seen people with really high blood sugar. I’ve seen people really low blood sugar. yeah, so it comes in handy for sure because you can recognize those symptoms or if you’re even, if you have to go handle a call and you know that the person that you’re going to is experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar or whatever, you can go in there with just that much more knowledge, and, and, also you can help other officers, recognize what’s going on and,

[00:28:53] Scott K. Johnson: I think that would be such a help. One of my, I don’t know, I call it an irrational fear, but I think it’s, I actually think it’s quite rational, is that I might be out in public experiencing a low blood sugar and lose control of my senses and my wits and I’m combative and in that, there’s a danger

[00:29:15] Andy Bell: Right.

[00:29:17] Andy Bell: very, very much. Yeah. No, that’s totally rational. I guess we have to keep advocating and keep educating, and it’s, it’s sometimes surprising, though still, how little people know about diabetes. First responders, medics, and everybody, law enforcement, medics, fire, they all are a lot more familiar with it, but there’s still a lot of, there’s still a lot of knowledge that there’s still a lot of education that needs to happen. That people aren’t getting.

[00:30:02] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned recently about bumping into another autoimmune diagnosis. tell us a little bit about that, how that affected your law enforcement career, how it affected your parenting, your daughter’s young and diabetes, and all that. It’s a big thing to deal with.

[00:30:25] Andy Bell: Yeah, so last year, so, I was with the city for three years, and then I transitioned to a county law enforcement agency. And, I ended up over the course of my time there, over the course of, after, two or three years, I found myself moving up in the agency, and then I actually ended up being in charge for the last couple years.

And it was, I had a lot of stress just running an agency and being responsible for, I think there were 15 or 16 officers under my command. And so I, started to have like really low energy. Looking back, it was like my skin had become very dark, like I’m naturally darker complected, but like my, I looked really dark, and like really having some serious energy issues like also confusion, brain fog, things like that. Long story short, we tried to figure out what was going on, and they diagnosed me with anemia first. And so I started supplementing with iron, but, That didn’t quite fix it. So actually, a pediatric endocrinologist friend of ours was actually in the office where my wife works, and they were, he was asking about me we knew each other from when I was a personal trainer and, she’s actually, long story short, she was telling him that I had been sick and what was going on, and he was the one that said we need to get him tested for Addison’s disease. got some blood work done, and then they came back with a diagnosis of Addison’s disease, or primary adrenal insufficiency, PAI for short. I guess this is January

[00:32:50] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

Yeah.

[00:32:51] Andy Bell: This is September of 23.

[00:32:54] Scott K. Johnson: Okay.

[00:32:55] Andy Bell: September 22, so it’s been over a year. And, so yeah, they tested, got, so I have to take hydrocortisone every day. My adrenal glands, which are on my kidneys, no longer produce cortisol. 

[00:33:12] Scott K. Johnson: Okay.

[00:33:13] Andy Bell: I think I’m saying that right. But so yeah, it’s another autoimmune, You can go into what’s called an adrenal crisis, because my adrenal glands aren’t working properly anymore, and your body’s not producing cortisone or cortisol, to, to deal with stress. If you have a very stressful event, you can go into what’s called adrenal crisis, which is a really, not a good condition, and it’s actually potentially fatal.

So, just like people with type one need to have some type of emergency glucose or a glucagon kit handy to treat a severe low or to have somebody that you’re with treat you with that. People with Addison’s need to have handy a shot of cortisol. So, if I were to have an extremely stressful event, I would immediately have to updose with hydrocortisone orally, but I may also have to inject to avoid an adrenal crisis.

I haven’t had to go into that yet. When I was initially diagnosed, I was in pretty bad shape, and I didn’t quite realize. It’s like when I got diagnosed with diabetes. I had been symptomatic for months, but we didn’t know what was going on. And just like with that, with Addison’s, as soon as I started taking hydrocortisone, I was immediately feeling better.

I haven’t had an adrenal crisis, but I, we’re friends on Facebook, and I, shared some of that on Facebook. And I essentially called it quits on my law enforcement career because I thought it was over. I thought I was already in a stressful position at the head of an agency. And, now, I’m gonna – with what I knew then, I thought, stress and law enforcement go hand in hand, so I’m going to hang it up. So, long story short, I got out of law enforcement for a number of months, and then I found my way back in a few months ago. And it’s, and so I feel really grateful to be back, even though, law enforcement is, not to get sidetracked, but it’s a, really, there’s a lot of pressure on officers nowadays, and for good reason and, some of it is, is I think just lack of understanding, on people who’ve never done law enforcement because, so anyway, it’s proven to not be an issue, Scott, for, me to remain in law enforcement. And, again, with my physical, with, with getting on with the agency, I had to show like it wasn’t a problem, I had to get blood work done.

[00:36:24] Scott K. Johnson: I can only imagine how hard it was for you to have to say, Hey, I, this may be not for me. And, as something that, you had, childhood dreams of serving and there, and you’re there for a while, and then you have to call it quits. It must have been really hard.

[00:36:44] Andy Bell: Yeah, it’s been rough. It’s been rough trying to get back on my feet again after Addison’s diagnosis, But now I am in a good place again, and I just feel so grateful that I get to be in this role. it just feels very natural to me. I like helping people. I like, like I’m decent at responding to situations that are less than ideal.

[00:37:20] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:37:21] Andy Bell: Just, and I, to be honest, I attribute some of that to just having to take on ownership of type 1 diabetes at 14. it’s like it teaches you, one of the upsides to living with autoimmune illness and getting diagnosed at a young age, or the age of 14 anyway, is it taught me, like you have to toughen up, you have to.

You have to over, you have to overcome odds every day. You have to, you’re, up against the wall. So, like, you build that fortitude through adversity, and, like, in law enforcement, you’re gonna, it’s adversity all day, every day, yeah. So, in a way, This is God’s purpose for me.

I just feel so grateful to be in a position to be able to serve and be in this role.

[00:38:23] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah. It’s funny, kind of looking back on things and seeing that divine path weaves its way through.

Diabetes is one great example of life not being fair, but what will you do with that? Are you going to curl up into a ball and just hide away from it? Or will you do what you do and still pursue your dreams?

[00:38:47] Andy Bell: 100%. And diabetes is going to beat you down it’s going to beat you down, but what are you going to do? You got to keep getting back up. So it makes us to survive and thrive with type one is a mission. It’s a freaking mission.

[00:39:06] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, I chuckle because I often, I should have learned my lesson by now, I’ll look at my, information. I’ll say, you know what? Boy, I’m doing pretty good. And then all of a sudden, it’s like my blood sugars go wild for no reason.

And it’s Oh, let me show you, let me show you who’s in control

[00:39:29] Andy Bell: Oh, yeah. I know. I know. I, before our, before we got on here, I had a, a coconut water, and I haven’t had one of those for a while, but like it shot me up to

[00:39:42] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

[00:39:42] Andy Bell: high and that’s, it’s a, it’s always there.

[00:39:49] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah. You’re right.

So when you mentioned your treatment for Addison’s, you’re taking steroids, right?

And. Steroids, for many of us with diabetes, often terrify us, right?

We hear all the stories of somebody going in to get an injection of steroids for an injury or something else, and it completely messes with their blood sugar for a long time.

Have you had any trouble with that?

[00:40:16] Andy Bell: It’s honestly, for me, it hasn’t been a big deal. I haven’t noticed a big change in my blood sugar and stuff. When I first got diagnosed with Addison’s, that was an immediate concern. I’m like, oh crap. what kind of wrench is this going to throw in?

[00:40:34] Scott K. Johnson: Right?

[00:40:36] Andy Bell: but. So far, it hasn’t, I haven’t noticed. Maybe I’m just oblivious, but I’m pretty mindful of it; I’m always watching my blood sugars and stuff. So far, it hasn’t been an issue. Now, if I have to take a shot of the emergency dose, that may send me off to Neptune. I don’t know.

[00:40:57] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, but in that case, you’ve got other problems. You’re dealing with to get you back where you need to be.

That’s good to hear. I can’t imagine. You know. Also, you’re learning you’re managing diabetes, but then all of a sudden, you have to learn all about this other

[00:41:16] Andy Bell: Right.

[00:41:17] Scott K. Johnson: Condition, and you’re also parenting with diabetes and all right.

So, your daughter is three’ish I think you said?

[00:41:27] Andy Bell: Yep.

[00:41:28] Scott K. Johnson: she would have been a little over, what, one and a half or something amid the diagnosis. It’s been a long time for me. I’ve had little ones that age running around, but it’s that lot of energy in itself. So I can see how you would easily write off feeling tired as being a new parent.

[00:41:48] Andy Bell: Oh yeah, getting worn down from work or getting worn down from, being a parent, but, and yeah, I was gonna say, getting, getting another autoimmune condition, having type 1 and being a parent, It adds to me a little bit more importance of being a good father, being a good husband, just because now you’re dealt with this thing in your life that, that may ultimately cut your life short, potentially, like I’m going to do everything I can not to have a life cut short by diabetes, but immediately there adds, a diagnosis like type 1 adds for me, it added an immediacy to my life, now I need to make sure that I’m taking care of my, health, that I’m, being the best that I can in all aspects of my life. And so now with Addison’s, again, it’s that was hard at home, my wife didn’t know what was going on.

We’re working, trying to raise a kid, and it added a lot of challenge. But so now with Addison’s in the mix too, and just trying to figure out what that means and how that’s going to impact our lives, that has added another degree of okay, need to, do the best you can, you know, with the time you’ve got, kind of

[00:43:32] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah.

Absolutely. I think it also adds, I know, at least for me, when my kids were young, it added a lot of, I would say responsibility, but that doesn’t quite feel like the right word. But, for example, you’re driving your kids around. And

if you have some kind of emergency situation with your kids, it’s, That’s scary, right?

So it’s a matter of just really trying your best to make sure nothing happens. I also can remember, and my kids were really great with this, but my diabetes interrupting plans that we had. Very specifically, remember, we wanted to go out on a walk or a hike, and we drove to the nature park, and we got out of the car, and we started walking. 10 minutes down the road, I’m low, and I’d used up all my glucose tabs earlier in the day, or whatever the case may be, and it’s hey, sorry kids, but we got to turn around and get back, to the car where I’ve got more stuff.

And so it was a bummer in that way, but my kids, and I think many kids who grow up around with diabetes in their life, they’re very understanding.

[00:44:51] Andy Bell: Yeah, we use the term, for like glucose or even if I have to eat some, sugar or, candy or something, everything, to my three-year-old, it’s daddy’s medicine, it’s daddy’s medicine, it’s daddy’s medicine. Yeah, it does. It adds it rears its head sometimes in the most inconvenient times, and it can be incredibly frustrating.

[00:45:19] Scott K. Johnson: yeah,

[00:45:19] Andy Bell: really? really diabetes?

[00:45:21] Scott K. Johnson: right now? Yeah, come on,

[00:45:23] Andy Bell: like really?

[00:45:26] Scott K. Johnson: that’s funny.

But it, I think it also gives us opportunities to teach our kids about dealing with adversity and showing and growing resilience and that type of thing, too, as you mentioned earlier.

[00:45:37] Andy Bell: Yeah. It sure does. And you have to really be careful like to not, cause you can, it can be really maddening sometimes. With those little eyes watching, you can’t just go off the handle if you can help it.

[00:45:53] Scott K. Johnson: Right.

[00:45:56] Andy Bell: you have to turn and face your problems. That’s an analogy we use in jiu-jitsu, and so it’s become a,

[00:46:08] Scott K. Johnson: A mantra of sorts.

[00:46:09] Andy Bell: a mantra. Yeah, for sure. Speaking of mantra, I became a, when I moved to New York City for JDRF, I–through a funny way–ended up taking some yoga training. so I was a certified personal trainer, but then, I took a 200-hour yoga certification, and I kept going. I ended up getting a 500-hour certification

[00:46:37] Scott K. Johnson: Wow.

[00:46:37] Andy Bell: I lived in New York City. But I say that only Learning yoga and learning kind of some of those teachings has really helped me navigate life as well. So I didn’t end up doing it; I didn’t really ever want to be a yoga teacher. A good friend of mine was teaching the course, and she encouraged me to do it. I’m really glad she did because I learned a lot about how to, just how to, live life. She used to say, live your yoga on and off the mat.

So, I applied those principles to life as well

[00:47:17] Scott K. Johnson: I bet. I’ve always had a, I’ve had a semi interest in learning yoga, mostly because, of basketball. There was,

I would go play at the YMCA back in the Twin Cities, and there was this guy there, Tony, and he was really good, right? And then he disappeared for two months, and when he returned, he was even better.

And so all of It was like, holy cow, Tony, like what, where were you? What did you do? And he, I don’t remember why he left, but while he was gone, he started doing yoga.

And it was incredible to see the difference that it made in core strength and maneuverability and stuff like that.

And I, I always think of that. My challenge has been that whenever I try getting started with yoga, it’s surprisingly difficult. It’s,

[00:48:16] Andy Bell: Yeah.

[00:48:17] Scott K. Johnson: it’s a lot.

[00:48:18] Andy Bell: Oh, it for sure is I Have a very short attention span. So, like, I’ve always been terrible about going to class or doing anything That requires a lot of attention, unfortunately, But like I’ll find time to just sit and stretch on the floor watching TV. And, even that, for me, has had a lot of benefits, just helping me process again some of the emotions, the feelings, the kind of difficulties that come with managing autoimmune stuff.

you don’t have to be a yogi or be able to stand on your big toe, but,

[00:49:08] Scott K. Johnson: I don’t have to take 500 hours of

[00:49:11] Andy Bell: yeah, no, but if you can find time just to process your thoughts, spend some time dealing with some of those emotions, because if you don’t, they build up and can manifest themselves into things that aren’t going to serve you very well.

Yeah.

[00:49:34] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. That’s good. That’s good, wise advice

[00:49:38] Andy Bell: when I was in New York City, and I lived in Jersey, I didn’t really know a lot of people that were really helpful for me then because New York City’s wild and crazy and busy. And, I went there, didn’t know anybody. So it was a good tool to help me get through my time there, so to speak.

But, going down, walking down, Broadway to, to our office, to JDRF headquarters every day, past Wall Street, it was, a really, it was a good experience, Professionally and just personally. But yeah.

[00:50:21] Andy Bell: I hope you do, I hope you do, more of these, Scott. You’ve always ever since I met you at CWD, I was always so excited to meet you, and you’ve, you’re just a great advocate for diabetes, and you’re an awesome voice and just have always been so respectful to me and everybody that I’ve seen you talk with.

People just, I hope you do more of these. I know you’re in a transition phase right now, right?

[00:50:45] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, it’s fun. I think one of the big things that, one of the big things that social media and all that we’ve done through that has done for me is, has been, I think really two things. One, a sense of normalcy, right?

WITH Diabetes, it’s really easy to get into this negative headspace where

You’re doing all the right things, and you’re, maybe, struggling with whatever it is you’re struggling with.

And you think, I must be really bad at this, but social media and connecting with other people with diabetes taught me that, no, it’s not me being bad at something. This is what many people with diabetes struggle with. So it gave me a sense of normalcy, which then, in turn, gave me the strength and resilience just to keep on working and pushing hard.

The other thing that it added was many different perspectives on approaching those things that I struggle with or other problems and learning how other people are dealing with them. To experiment maybe and try those for myself. I love hearing stories and sharing stories. I think it’s really important.

[00:52:00] Andy Bell: Yeah. That’s good. That’s, that, you’re right. It’s essential and it is a blessing to be able to talk and have that connectedness, I need to probably be a little bit better about trying to find opportunities in person. Cause I love to just be around people and connect in person, but yeah, just, yeah, that stuff wasn’t around back in the day.

And, to be able to get online and to share some of those and to see other people having the same experiences and frustrations with healthcare, and it does. It makes a big difference. It really does.

[00:52:37] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, I think it’s good to know that it’s out there. right now, you’re in a different, you’re in a different season of life with a toddler running around

[00:52:45] Andy Bell: Yeah.

[00:52:47] Scott K. Johnson: That takes a lot of time and energy.

But I think the nice thing about all this is that it’ll be there when that season changes, and, you can tap into it as it best fits your needs and your schedule.

[00:53:04] Andy Bell: Yeah.

[00:53:06] Scott K. Johnson: we’ve talked about an awful lot of things. Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you want to, that you want to bring up?

[00:53:15] Andy Bell: I don’t think so. I can’t really think of anything. Again. I just, if I, when I was 14 and I remember hearing about the first time I heard about somebody who was like a soccer referee at the time or something, I played soccer as a kid and I remember hearing like, Oh, so and so has type one, and I was like blown away.

So with social media, I And stuff. Now you can find people a lot easier. Gosh, there are so many people who’ve done so many extraordinary things with type one. But if I can, inspire–like there wasn’t anybody that I could look up to necessarily in type with type one for a lot of years.

[00:54:03] Scott K. Johnson: Mmhmm

[00:54:04] Andy Bell: so if you’re watching this and you have a desire to serve, even though the military’s probably not gonna be an option for you. You probably know it’s because as of right now It’s you’ll still get turned down. Go and find a position with the law enforcement agency in some capacity and fulfill that service role yeah, if I can inspire one person to do that who is maybe newly diagnosed, and then that’s all I want to do like great,

[00:54:38] Scott K. Johnson: I think you’ve got a very powerful story and, I think, what probably feels somewhat just normal everyday life for you, right? Serving in your law enforcement, black belt in jiu-jitsu, and there’s so many things you’ve got going on, Andy, that, just. Your story, it’s a, it’s a powerful testimony to what people can accomplish, living with diabetes and Addison’s and parenting with diabetes and the whole mix.

So thank you!

[00:55:10] Andy Bell: I really appreciate it. I thank you. it’s been awesome catching up with you and seeing everything you’re involved in

[00:55:21] Scott K. Johnson: What’s next for you? What are you looking at?

[00:55:27] Andy Bell: I just want to just keep taking care of myself and watching my kid grow. She’s amazing and probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Yeah, just being as healthy as I can and trying to be the best officer I can. And yeah, we’re taking a trip in May. Looking forward to that.

[00:55:52] Scott K. Johnson: Yeah, that’s good. It sounds like a full, busy, and fulfilling life. So that’s wonderful.

[00:55:58] Andy Bell: Doing the best I can.

[00:56:00] Scott K. Johnson: Absolutely. All right. Let’s wrap this up, and everyone, thank you for watching. Andy, thanks again for coming on and sharing your story. It’s

[00:56:09] Andy Bell: Good to see you, man. It’s always great to see you, buddy.

[00:56:11] Scott K. Johnson: We’ll get you back on again soon.

[00:56:13] Andy Bell: Let’s do it. All right. Keep charging on. See you, man.

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Scott K. Johnson

Patient voice, speaker, writer, and advocate. Living life with diabetes and telling my story. All opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the position of my employer.

Diagnosed in April of 1980, I recognize the incredible mental struggle of living with diabetes. Read more…