Bonita Lehmann

After her daughter’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis at just 18 months old, Bonita Lehmann found herself anxious, depressed and alone. Now, almost 20 years later, she is using her journey to inspire other parents with children managing a chronic condition.

The measuring, the counting, the monitoring, the finger pokes, the site changes, the insulin shots: for a parent of a child with diabetes,it’s a familiar, round-the-clock routine that never takes a holiday.

But for Bonita Lehmann, the rituals and regimen were much more than medical necessities: they were a daily quest to save her daughter Samantha’s life.

It’s all Bonita can do to fight back the tears as she describes the day her daughter was diagnosed, almost 20 years ago. Recalls Bonita, “Sammy had been lethargic and cranky for two weeks, and was peeing up a storm. ‘She’s too young for diabetes,’ her doctor had said. Forty-eight hours later, I rushed her into emergency, unconscious.” At just 18 months old, Samantha was the youngest person ever to have been diagnosed with diabetes in Alberta at the time.

Bonita emerged from the hospital after four days with her daughter, numb and in a state of shock—and an entirely different person.

She had almost lost her Samantha twice: once at birth, and now, at 18 months old. And thus begun Bonita’s quest. “I was hell-bent on saving her, and I wanted to control everything,” emphasizes Bonita – something very common for many parents after a child’s diagnosis. Over time, Bonita’s loneliness and isolation grew. “I was unhappy, depressed, anxious, and angry. I stopped paying attention to myself,” says Bonita. Over the next decade, Bonita’s physical and mental health suffered, as did her marriage.

Twelve years after Samantha’s diagnosis came a turning point for both Bonita and Samantha. At 14, Samantha got her first insulin pump—and it changed their world. “With Samantha being more independent, I finally felt I had space and room in my life. For so long, I had stuffed my feelings down inside me while Sam’s emotions came first. I was so busy saving my daughter that I forgot to think about myself and the kind of example I was setting,” says Bonita.

The next two years would prove difficult, however, as teenage Samantha rebelled against her disease, to the point where she ended up in emergency. As her daughter recovered and began to reclaim herself, Bonita was still fighting lingering depression and low self-esteem. One morning in January 2007, she had a vivid nightmare in which she was drowning. It was the wakeup call she needed.

Over the next year, Bonita took up weight lifting, and began eating a clean, healthy diet. As her fitness improved, she started blogging about her success, and sharing her story at events such as JDRF breakfasts. After one such talk, a mom came up to Bonita and gave her a hug. “She told me, ‘Thank you so much for sharing your story, because I can’t.’” Bonita realized right then that she had a story to tell.

She started waking up at 5:30 a.m. to work out, meditate—and to write. Over the next two years, she poured her journey out onto the pages of her memoir, Saving Her, Saving Me. On My Way to Finding Something Magnificent, that shares her personal journey to being accountable, believing in herself and making the commitment to finally make the changes that were necessary to live a happy and peaceful life. She also launched www.DreamBig-LiveAmazing.com to share her knowledge, insight, wisdom and practical tips with other families. Through reaching out and helping others, she was able to make peace with her own journey as a parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes.

Although it took Bonita almost 20 years to rediscover and redefine herself, she wouldn’t have done it any other way. As she explains, “I wouldn’t be the woman I am now without having gone through the journey I did. But it was that A-B-C—Accountability, Belief and Commitment—that saved me. I once was a worrier. Now I am a warrior.”