It was just a week before Christmas when accountant and mum-of-two Kate had her world turned upside-down by a visit to the doctors.
“My seven-year-old son Blake had recently started wetting the bed, he was more tired than usual and also extremely thirsty. I had been Googling possible causes and thought it was due to a UTI, the heat, or the fact he was exhausted after a big year of school. I was chatting to our female GP about all of this and fully expected to be given a prescription for antibiotics and be on our way.
“The doctor listened intently then tested Blake’s urine and did a quick finger-prick blood test. The results were startlingly clear – she told me very simply and gently that unfortunately Blake had Diabetes Type 1.”
While Kate struggled to understand what the implications of the diagnosis were for Blake and the family, the GP told them to immediately go home and pack for hospital. While they waited anxiously in the Emergency Department, they were visited by the diabetes support team.
“I was in complete denial and I kept waiting for someone to say, ‘I’m sorry, there has been a mix up, your son is fine and you can go home.’ I was given mountains of paperwork to read and everything the diabetes experts were saying to me went over my head. All I could think of was my poor son and how was I, with my needle phobia, going to be able to inject him every single day?”
Blake had to remain in hospital over Christmas while Kate, her husband Pete and their youngest son Luca came to grips with the news.
“We were all devastated but aside from the shock of the diagnosis, there was so much to learn about the erratic nature of Diabetes Type 1 and the technicalities involved in treating Blake.
“Not only did we have to inject him with insulin four times a day, but he was given a blood glucose monitor to wear on his arm 24/7 that feeds data back to a phone and diabetes App via Bluetooth. He would also need us to give him finger prick blood tests at least four times daily to calibrate and check the monitor was working.”
Measuring and managing Blake’s diet is also hugely important and while he can eat anything he wants, it all has to be logged and strictly accounted for, to make sure his blood glucose levels remain as consistent as possible.
The logistical and emotional impact on Blake and his family have been huge. Kate decided to quit her job to manage his care as in spite of following all the rules, Diabetes Type 1 can be notoriously difficult to manage.
“I fret about his blood glucose levels constantly and I feel a distinct lack of control as I no longer know what to do to keep my son alive and well. One day we get it perfectly right and it seems as if we have nailed it, the next, the monitor alarm is going off in the night and I’m up giving him apple juice at 3am.
“We are still working out how to best manage his condition and we are trying so hard as the implications for not keeping Blake’s blood glucose levels within the targeted zone can result in complications such as blindness, loss of limbs, or kidney disease.”
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Reactions from friends and family have been surprising. Kate explains that while most people have gone out of their way to understand Blake’s diabetes and offer support, others have been somewhat dismissive or shown a huge lack of understanding.
“I have been frustrated by the comments that ‘at least it’s not cancer’ as well as some older acquaintances trying to sympathise by telling me in detail about their Diabetes Type 2, which can be managed through diet and exercise. I have even had someone query his diabetes diagnosis because ‘he’s not fat.’”
As a busy working mum-of-two boys until that day last December when all of their lives changed, Kate never thought she would become a passionate advocate for families living with Diabetes Type 1.
“I have realised how little awareness there is around Diabetes Type 1 as people do not understand how serious and complicated it is to live with and treat. I hope to help change that and inspire more empathy from the wider community.”
“I know that many people live full lives with Diabetes Type 1 and I hope that in time it will be the same for Blake. I also hope that technological advances will mean his treatment and the methods used will improve dramatically in the future. For now, we are learning as a family how we can work together to give Blake as normal a life as possible while continuing to look after ourselves in the process.”
Diabetes Type 1 Facts from the Diabetes NSW and ACT Website:
- It is an auto-immune condition and it is unknown what causes it to occur
- Occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin
- Represents around 10 per cent of all cases of diabetes and is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions
- Onset is usually abrupt and the symptoms obvious
- Symptoms can include excessive thirst and urination, unexplained weight loss, weakness and fatigue and blurred vision
- Is managed with insulin injections several times a day or the use of an insulin pump.
To find out more or to give a donation go to: https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au