Prepare, Smile and Ask for Help – by Tessa Dinnes

We met Tess at the Australian HealtheVoices Conference in October 2018. After hearing her story and what she does, we were absolutely blown away with her positivity, energy and determination. So of course we had to share it here! 

I’m Tess, soon-to-be 25 (whoa!), and I live on the Gold Coast, in Queensland, Australia. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes back in December of 2016. My diagnosis came as a massive shock to my family and me, as we do not have a family history of diabetes. When I was admitted to Gold Coast University Hospital, I had blood sugar readings of 38 mmol/L (about 700 mg/dL) and ketones of 5 mM. 

In the beginning, I found my diagnosis to be challenging – I was terrified of needles, so being introduced to this new life was terrifying for me! I am lucky that one of my closest friends also has type 1 diabetes so she really helped me to transition to my new life. I am also extremely lucky to have fabulous health care team who I am able to contact 24 hours a day! 

Operation Smile
I currently work as the International Program Coordinator for Operation Smile Australia, which is an international medical charity that sends medical volunteers to developing countries to perform cleft lip and cleft palate operations. I am responsible for 250 volunteers across Australia and New Zealand, who I place on medical missions across the globe. I organise all the logistics for volunteers to get to the missions from flights to visas to temporary medical licenses. 

I wouldn’t say that diabetes has impacted my professional life at all – I’ve actually learned a lot. Working in a role such as mine takes me overseas throughout the year (as I type this, I am sitting in Dallas Airport in the USA on my way to our global headquarters in Virginia!).

In the beginning, I was anxious about traveling overseas: carrying all my diabetes supplies and insulin pump through security; not forgetting the time zone changes, carb counting different foods, etc. But after my first overseas trip, I realised there was nothing to worry about as long as I’m prepared. 

For example, whenever I am in an extremely humid country like the Philippines, I know that I need to take less insulin than normal, only bolusing for half the carbs in my food because the humidity drops me very quickly. As an added bonus, when I travel with the volunteers to missions or facilities, I’m never anxious as I am surrounded by medical professionals. Even before I was diagnosed with diabetes, being prepared and positive has resulted in some amazing life experiences: in 2015, I spent a year working at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, as part of a university internship called the “Disney College Program,” where I also met my boyfriend!

Words of Wisdom

Along with reassuring my newly-diagnosed self about traveling, looking back I’d also say that it is okay to reach out and ask for help if you are struggling mentally or physically with diabetes. It can be hard to open up to loved ones who don’t have diabetes about what you’re going through, but it can certainly help! I would also tell myself not to let other people’s ignorance about diabetes get to me, and instead use it as an opportunity to educate and advocate.

My passion for diabetes advocacy is just as strong as my passion for safe surgical care for everyone around the world. Nothing in life will ever compare to seeing a child before and after an Operation Smile procedure. I am so fortunate to have a very rewarding job that I love. If you are located in Australia and interested in becoming a medical volunteer, you can reach out to us at; if you are located in another country, look up your closest Operation Smile foundation and get in touch.

Follow Tess and her adventures on Instagram: @typeonetess 

Find out more about Operation Smile:
Twitter: @OperationSmile
Instagram: @OperationSmile  

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