UCF alumna, former student lost after battles with diabetes

Born the same day, Courtney Evans and Ashley Gallimore would send each other "Happy Birthday" texts at midnight. When May 16 rolls around this year, Evans will be swamped with birthday wishes from everyone but Gallimore.

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Born the same day, Courtney Evans and Ashley Gallimore would send each other "Happy Birthday" texts at midnight. When May 16 rolls around this year, Evans will be swamped with birthday wishes from everyone but Gallimore.

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 12, Gallimore often spoke of how she wanted her funeral arranged. Evans, along with five other women, some sisters of her sorority Delta Sigma Theta — whom she considered best friends — and even Gallimore's mother, Sandra Haye-Roberts, hated when she talked about dying.

But on July 12, 2014, Gallimore's funeral was just the way she wanted it.

Buried in a white gown and tiara, Gallimore insisted the guests don white as well; and the program resembled that of a wedding reception. Her aunt sang "The Battle is not Yours" and Evans read a poem, "If tomorrow starts without me."

"They say black is for mourning and white is for a celebration of life, and I think that's what she wanted," Evans said. "She didn't want us to mourn. She wanted us to celebrate her life and be happy that she's finally resting in peace."

Gallimore, who earned a bachelor's degree in health sciences in spring 2010, was honored at a Juvenile Diabetes Awareness Dinner at UCF in November, along with Anwar Rashid, a former UCF business administration student who was diagnosed with type 1 when he was only 9.

Unlike type 2 diabetes, which often appears later in life, type 1 is usually seen in children as early as 8 years old, said Dr. Rona McKenzie of Broward Health in Fort Lauderdale, who treated Gallimore at different points in her life. While its cause is still partially unknown, the condition is found in those unable to produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body break down sugar. To control these spikes and dips in blood sugar, she said, patients must inject themselves with insulin and keep a strict diet.

For Gallimore and Anwar, no strangers to the prick of an insulin syringe, the story of their deaths start with the day before.

Also a sufferer of gastroparesis — a condition that weakens the stomach's ability to digest food and greatly worsens type 1 — Gallimore was constantly checking in and out of the hospital.

"Her sugar would just go low and go high. One time her sugar went up to like 1,100; they couldn't even measure it on the Accu-Chek. And one time it went down to six," Evans said.

After her last stay, Gallimore was discharged July 3, 2014. In good spirits, she refused to leave the hospital in a wheelchair.

"She said, 'Mommy, I'm walking out of this hospital and I'm never coming back,'" her mother said. "'When I come back, I'll be a doctor or a nurse.'"

That day, she had lunch with her cousin and sister, and spoke to each of her six friends on the phone. After she went to sleep, her mother continued to check on her throughout the night.

"When I checked on her the last time, was 6:30 a.m. when I went and checked on her. She said, 'Mommy leave me alone, you're as bad as the nurses.'"

The next morning, Gallimore's 3-year-old son Jayden woke up craving a stack of pancakes.

"I said to him, 'Mommy's home, go get Mommy.' He went in there and called her twice … she didn't answer."

Haye-Roberts went into the room to discover her daughter cold on the ground. She had vomited and had no pulse. She performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. They shocked her about four times without a response.

"I kept begging them, 'Keep going, keep going. She can't be gone,'" she said.

And after a 16-year battle with type 1, Gallimore died on July 4, 2014 at the age of 28.

Her sugar had dropped critically during the night, which led to a seizure and aspiration.

For Amir, the last time he saw his brother Anwar was in a dream.

On July 5, 2011, Amir and Anwar practiced for a stroll show with their Phi Beta Sigma brothers. The following morning, Anwar ran an errand to the Radisson hotel on Alafaya Boulevard, and Amir was scheduled to go to the doctor for some routine blood work before the performance.

Amir finished his errand, but Anwar never made it to the doctor, or the show.

Unable to file a missing person's report for 24 hours, Amir did his best to sleep that night, where he saw his brother in his dreams wearing a tank top inside a car. The next day, Anwar was discovered dead inside his car parked at the Radisson. He would have graduated alongside his brother in spring 2012 with a degree in business administration.

Amir reasons his brother's blood sugar had dropped from fasting in preparation for the blood work, and when he started to feel woozy, he pulled into a parking lot to avoid an accident.

As far as the dream goes, Amir believes, "I think a part of me connected with him ... it was to let me know where he was at. Sometimes I like to think of it as his goodbye."

For many, the thought of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes isn't a death sentence. However, in 2010, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death, claiming the lives of 234,051 people as the underlying or contributing cause, according to the American Diabetes Association.

"When I first found out, it was just kind of like, 'Oh she has diabetes, she's diabetic, so she has to check her sugar and she has to take insulin.' That was my only thought process," Evans said. "I didn't think it was as severe as it was."

Even Gallimore was very nonchalant when she found out about her illness. Anwar's reaction, however, wasn't as positive.

After attending a camp for type 1 patients of similar age, he realized he wasn't "the only one fighting the war," and started to see himself as a "soldier that's been drafted," his brother said.

And those fighting the disease aren't the only ones affected, Amir added.

"You have your type 1, which is juvenile; your type 2, which is onset; and your type 3 are those loved ones …" he explained.

After losing his brother, Amir and some of his fraternity brothers got tattoos to remember their fallen brother, including Amir, who got "Anwar" and "braveheart" on his chest.

"I'll always have a braveheart now," he said — a nod to Anwar's line name for the daring person that he was.

Along with his tattoo, the memory of his brother follows Amir every day.

"It's like losing a limb. You go through phantom pains," he said. "You look for that limb, but it's not there."

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Caroline Glenn is the News Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter @bycarolineglennor email her at CarolineGCentralFloridaFuture.com.

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