Certificates line the walls of Brandon Howsego’s bedroom and there are signs of his devotion to karate all over the house.
The Horndean Technology College pupil is a keen and committed scholar of this ancient martial art.
He trains with his karate school for more than four hours a week and spends every spare moment he can practising his moves at home.
Today the 13-year-old answers the front door wearing his karate kit – and is proudly sporting the black belt he’s just achieved.
As any karate fanatic knows, the prestigious coloured belt is a massive accolade but particularly means a lot to Brandon and his family.
Not only is it unusual for someone so young to earn their black belt so early, but he also got it in spite of having diabetes.
Being diagnosed with the incurable disease came as a real shock for Brandon and his parents, Phil and Sara, at first.
But the teenager has adapted well to a daily routine that involves injecting himself regularly with insulin and making sure he eats a healthy diet to keep his sugar levels under control.
Now he’s celebrating after achieving his black belt just four years after taking up karate, proving that diabetes doesn’t have to hold you back.
‘Having diabetes makes me want to live more,’ says Brandon, from Waterlooville.
‘It was a bit weird at first and took a couple of months to understand what it was but it’s not going to stop me from doing anything.’
Brandon was only eight when he was diagnosed with Type one diabetes. He’d broken his leg in two places when the family dog accidentally knocked him over during the school summer holiday.
He spent time in a wheelchair and went through physiotherapy. But just as he was getting back on his feet again, his mum spotted the signs that something wasn’t right.
‘My wife saw the symptoms,’ remembers Phil. ‘Her brother has Type one diabetes and she saw Brandon wanted to drink
a lot of water and was going to the toilet all the time.
‘She thought we should get it checked out and his sugar levels were through the roof.
‘We were lucky because most people don’t spot it in time.’
Brandon was admitted to the children’s unit at Portsmouth’s St Mary’s Hospital and emergency blood and urine tests quickly revealed what the problem was.
After two nights in hospital he was safe to go home but the whole family had to adapt to a new way of life.
‘No-one knows how this thing comes on,’ says Phil. ‘It could have been to do with his broken leg, we just don’t know.
‘It was really traumatic at the time. As parents you do worry and think “What next?” But something that definitely keeps us going is knowing there’s lots of people worse off. If you think about it like that it helps.
‘One thing that really sticks in my mind was that he’d been in hospital for a couple of days and when we were driving along I just said “I’ve never asked you son how you’re doing with all this?”
‘He said “I just get on with it dad” and that’s exactly what he’s done.’
The paediatric diabetes team at Queen Alexandra Hospital helped Brandon learn how to manage his condition, making sure he could spot the signs of low and high blood sugar levels, as well as how to inject insulin.
Carol Newman, one of the paediatric diabetes nurse specialists, explains the challenges he faced: ‘The diabetes team provide ongoing care at home, school and clinic appointments to help the family adjust and Brandon feel he is in control of his diabetes and the diabetes is not controlling him.
‘As the family have always worked as a team this has supported Brandon and allowed him not to feel on his own with diabetes.’
Determined to carry on as before, Brandon took up karate at the age of nine. He’d seen a taster session and thought it looked like a lot of fun so joined Sama Karate, a local school running classes all over the area.
‘It just grew from there,’ adds Brandon. ‘I had quite a talent for it and kept going.’
And just four years after taking the martial art up, Brandon is delighted that he’s achieved his prestigious black belt.
‘It’s fun,’ he adds. ‘It’s exercise but you wouldn’t think of it as exercising.
‘I like learning different things. The first time I went I was really shy, now I’m one of the most talkative ones in my class.’
The diabetes team have already congratulated Brandon on his success and his karate teacher, Ed Stone, also believes he has a lot to feel proud about.
‘Having known Brandon for the last four and a half years, sometimes it’s hard to comprehend that he does have diabetes as he always gives 100 per cent in every session,’ says Ed.
‘Brandon should be an inspiration to others. He has proved that diabetes is not another obstacle that holds you back, indeed anything can be achieved when you put your mind to it.’
Phil adds: ‘Of course you’re protective as parents but diabetes doesn’t have to stop them doing anything.
‘You’ve got no choice but to live with it, you’ve got to get on. I just think he’s an example to a lot of others out there.
‘The team at the hospital has been fantastic. They give 24/seven support and I ran the Great South Run to raise money for them this year.
‘We’re really pleased for him and we’re so proud as parents. There’s a clear message for other children and parents out there. It’s not the be-all and end-all. It doesn’t stop you from doing anything in life.’
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin.
Insulin is the key that unlocks the door to the body’s cells. Once the door is unlocked, glucose can enter the cells where it is used as fuel. In Type 1 diabetes the body is unable to produce any insulin so the glucose builds up in the blood.
Nobody knows for sure why these insulin-producing cells have been destroyed but the most likely cause is the body having an abnormal reaction to the cells. This may be triggered by a virus or other infection.
Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40 and especially in childhood. It accounts for between five and 15 per cent of all people with diabetes and is treated by daily insulin injections, a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood glucose level, or when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin that is being produced.
Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children, however Type 2 diabetes is now on the rise.
Type 2 is treated with lifestyle changes, following a healthy balanced diet, increasing physical activity, and losing weight if you need to. Some people may need medications and/or insulin injections to achieve normal blood glucose levels.
Some of the risks factors associated with Type 2 diabetes are out of your control while others, such as being overweight, you can act on to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
To find out more about managing diabetes log onto diabetes.org.uk