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Maria's daughters began feeling unwell. Then a finger prick test changed her entire world.

In January 2015, a week shy of the school year commencing, my whole world changed. Two of my three daughters, Francis, 12, and Lillian, 5, were both feeling extremely unwell. I took both girls to the doctor countless times until finally they checked their urine and did a finger prick test. Following these tests, Francis and Lillian were hospitalised for three days at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead where they were both diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. By the time they reached hospital, Lillian was in a critical state.

Later that year in September, my 10-year-old daughter Clarissa woke up vomiting. This time I instinctively did a finger prick test. The test confirmed my fears: Clarissa’s blood sugar levels were extremely high. Like Francis and Lillian, Clarissa too was a healthy, active, ‘normal’ girl.

I immediately contacted our diabetes educator at Diabetes NSW & ACT who was assigned to us when we first learnt of Francis’ and Lillian’s diagnosis. Within hours, we were in hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed: the genetic disease had struck our family a third time.

Type 1 diabetes
(L-R) Clarissa, Lillian and Francis. Image supplied.

Due to the demands managing the diabetes of my three children, I was forced to reconsider whether I had the capability to continue with my career as a registered nurse (RN). Although I was working part time, my work sometimes demanded interstate travel, which took me away from the family for up to two days at a time. I was fortunate enough that my employer was understanding of my family’s situation and allowed me to work from home most days and to start work after I had administered Lillian's injection at school.

Although I’m an RN, I had never experienced working in endocrinology. Because of my inexperience, I refrained from disclosing my occupation with the healthcare professionals who were working with us. I didn’t want there to be any assumptions as to what I might know. I wanted the best chance of comprehending the condition and adapting our family to living with Type 1 diabetes in the most informed way possible.

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The only thing I was confident about - or so I thought - was administering the subcutaneous injections. However, I quickly learnt it's a very different experience injecting a patient than your own child, especially one who is only five-years-old, four times a day.

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There’s so much more to managing Type 1 diabetes than administering injections. The whole family had to quickly learn about nutrition, carbohydrate counting, pumps, pump sets, sets change, ketones and ketone management, sick days and sick day management, boluses, temporary basals, square bolus or dual bolus, novorapid, Lantus, and so on.

The information to take in was completely overwhelming, especially knowing that my retention of this knowledge was critical to ensuring the safety of my children. Diabetes NSW & ACT has been a sanity and lifesaving resource for knowledge, support and community. The As1 platform in particular, has really helped the girls understand their condition, as the learning tools and resources explain Type 1 to children in an engaging and comprehensive way.

I was beginning to doubt there would be a day when our lives would feel ‘normal’ again. But eventually we found a new ‘normal’. About 12 months after diagnosis things started to become more manageable. As a family, we were becoming more confident in managing the day-to-day life of living with Type 1 diabetes. We have great support from family and friends. My girls are active and have gone back to doing many of the activities they were doing prior to diagnosis.

Type 1 Diabetes
Lillian monitoring her blood sugar levels. Image supplied.

As for me, it's been quite a journey filled with challenging and frustrating moments. There have been countless 3am blood glucose checks and tears of despair. But when I’m having a moment of weakness, all I have to do is look at my girls who show me every day how to take all the challenges they’re faced with in their stride. They have taken on Type 1 and are living with it to the best of their abilities, with bravery, wisdom and resilience. They are embracing life, doing things they enjoy and not allowing their condition to hinder them.

I have drawn so much inspiration watching my girls on their journey that I’ve enrolled at UTS and will start in a few weeks on a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Management and Education. My aim is to learn as much as I can about Type 1 diabetes so I’m able to support my children in a safe and knowledgeable way into and through their teens.

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