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Lips First

Natalie Irish kisses her portraits into life.

Irish decided to go on an insulin pump, a tiny computer strapped to the body 24/7. A small needle remains beneath the skin's surface to deliver one type of insulin automatically. The other type of insulin needs a bit more attention; right before pump users eat anything, they must count carbohydrates and enter them into the pump to determine the correct dosage.

Should a Type 1 diabetic misuse a pump or not take enough insulin, the consequences can be dire. "Eventually, they'd get very very ill, fall into a coma, and die," says Saul of the Joslin Diabetes Center. "It can happen very quickly, especially with someone on a pump. The reason is the insulin used in a pump, as opposed to the long-acting insulin they use in injections, only lasts about four hours. You're using it for the whole day, but at any particular point if the pump stopped, you'd only have about four hours of insulin in your body."

At UNT, Irish was still growing accustomed to her diabetes and pump. She would sometimes get sick and miss class. When teachers threatened to drop her whole letter grades, Irish went to appeal to the disabilities board. "The lady at the desk actually said, 'Diabetes? Well, don't you just have to take insulin and not eat candy?'" Irish says. Deciding not to go through with her appeal, Irish walked out. Soon after, she packed her bags and moved back to Houston, even though she'd only been at UNT a year and a half.

Because the work is painstaking, Irish kisses in short sessions punctuated by breaks.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Because the work is painstaking, Irish kisses in short sessions punctuated by breaks.
Dennis Bateman is Irish's husband, manager, and biggest supporter. He sent Irish's video to countless blogs until finally, one reposted it.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Dennis Bateman is Irish's husband, manager, and biggest supporter. He sent Irish's video to countless blogs until finally, one reposted it.

While in Houston, Irish took sporadic art classes at Alvin Community College. There, she met her pottery teacher and mentor Dennis LaValley, chairman of the art department. LaValley was impressed by Irish's ability to create things others couldn't imagine. "She'd try to make shapes that people haven't seen before. She would try to ask the clay to do things that clay normally doesn't do," he says. Irish was a rare student, he says, and she would sometimes have to miss class because of her diabetes. "It would hit her hard, and she'd have to disappear and take care of herself." But she always came back.

Meanwhile, Irish found the love of her life, Dennis Bateman. Bateman was married and she was engaged to someone else, and the four became friends at a concert. After a while, Bateman and Irish broke their relationships off and started dating each other. It was a perfect partnership: Bateman, a former medic in the Air Force, knew how to take care of her. "She calls me her murse," Bateman says, laughing. A photographer, he also shared her love for art, and especially for her art. He begged Irish to pursue it fulltime.

It was the perfect plan, absent her diabetes. "It's sad that so much of being able to do artwork is dependent on health insurance," Irish says. She got a job working the front desk at a local veterinary clinic, and art was relegated to her free time. It would be her first and last job in the corporate world.

The first year was uneventful at the clinic, which Irish doesn't want to name. But for almost the entire second year she worked there, her diabetes seemed to be getting worse. Irish's blood sugar levels were either way too high or way too low, even though she was now on an insulin pump. She would fall ill out of the blue, and Bateman would have to leave work to get her. Her co-workers ignored her when she was sick, Irish says. "They treated me like I was faking it." One day Irish passed out, hitting her head on the counter as she went down. A coworker called to her from the other room, Irish remembers, and nonchalantly asked if she needed an ambulance.

Irish became afraid for her safety. Since she didn't look sick, no one believed that she really was, Irish says. She asked for a transfer, but the company denied her request and instead tried to force her resignation, according to Irish.

A week later, Irish received a letter from Medtronic, the company who makes her pump equipment. They were issuing a recall on faulty tubing that administers insulin. The batch number for the affected tubes matched that on Irish's equipment.

Finally, Irish had proof that she wasn't faking it. She made a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which resulted in a right-to-sue letter. Irish planned to sue the company and, should she receive any compensation, start a nonprofit diabetes fund. But the EEOC gave her the wrong cause number. By the time they sent the right one, Irish said, the 90-day window to sue had expired. "Nobody was held responsible, ever," she says.
_____________________

In a strange way, diabetes was nudging Irish toward the life she always wanted – that of a fulltime stay-at-home artist. Irish knew she wanted to quit the clinic, and she and Bateman soon realized there was one way back into the health insurance loop. They could get married.

Marriage would destroy their plan of living together forever without any unnecessary titles, but practicality trumped idealism. So they drove to Vegas one weekend with Bateman's boss, who refused to let them get married alone, and found a drive-through chapel. Bateman piggybacked his T-shirt and jeans-clad girlfriend down the aisle. They traded no rings, and Irish kept her last name. "It's not the Middle Ages anymore," Bateman says.

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4 comments
shaun
shaun

this is such garbage...post the truth...she was married and cheating on her husband while he worked offshore...drinking and boozing with total disregard of her safety or the husband working his ass off for her and their future...

Mr. Ripley
Mr. Ripley

She's amazing! That's quite an ability.

Hopefully with fame she can use a real videographer who actually has talent to showcase her work who focuses on the artist and not a desperate attempt to get noticed too.

rgwalt
rgwalt

Natalie- Check out the wireless, tubeless insulin pump by Omnipod! You load the pod, put it on, and it lasts for 3 days. Plus the control module doubles as your glucose meter. My girlfriend lowered her A1C by a full point after about 6 months on the pod, and loves it in comparison to her old pump. Only down side is you cannot take the pod and reconnected it like a standard insulin pump.

On another note, I really enjoyed this piece, the story, and the artwork!

Gabriel Dieter
Gabriel Dieter

She sure is cool huh! I'm so happy for her to have the interest she deserves!

 
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