‘This isn’t for a few weeks – it’s for the rest of my life’

Joey Pickup who has Type 1 diabetes at the family home in Drayton  with 'Ronnie' the family rescue dog.  Picture: Malcolm Wells (13774-4281)
Joey Pickup who has Type 1 diabetes at the family home in Drayton with 'Ronnie' the family rescue dog. Picture: Malcolm Wells (13774-4281)

From broken bones to new beginnings

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Teenager Joey Pickup is a bright, energetic lad who loves playing sport, does well at school and has a particular flair for maths.

Until recently the 13-year-old and his family thought little about his interests and abilities and just got on with working hard and enjoying their lives.

But now they’re extremely grateful that Joey has a head for numbers and is able to do the activities he loves.

Every time the Drayton youngster has a meal or snack to fuel his energetic lifestyle, he has to do calculations from a series of charts and numbers.

That’s because two years ago he was diagnosed with Diabetes Type 1, which means each time he eats he needs an injection of insulin to control his blood glucose levels.

And every dose is different according to the size of the meal and what it contains.

‘It’s been a steep learning curve,’ says his mum Tina, surrounded by lists of numbers and a book with figures next to every kind of food.

‘Every meal is a maths lesson really and the organisation required in our lives is pretty phenomenal.

‘It’s fortunate for us that Joey is good with things like this and we don’t find it that difficult.’

Using the correct insulin doses requires looking at the amount of carbohydrates and sugars in every meal.

Doing this accurately is essential for Joey’s short-term and long-term health. People with Type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, which is what opens the door for blood glucose to fuel the muscles and give us energy.

Without regular doses Joey’s glucose levels in the blood would be too high and eventually cause serious damage to the body’s organs. They could also become too low, resulting in a dangerous hypo that could leave Joey unconscious.

The teenager has had to learn to inject himself, read his blood glucose levels from a monitor and the family must carry needles and emergency supplies wherever they go.

Thankfully, the Pickups have received plenty of support from the diabetes team at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham.

Tina says the specialists have been fantastic in preparing them for life with the condition.

But charity Diabetes UK is concerned generally that there isn’t enough support for every family in the country and has launched a campaign.

It says young adults with Type 1 diabetes are much more likely to die than their peers because they are not getting the health care they need, adding that 85 per cent of children with the condition have poor blood glucose control, which puts them at significantly increased risk of devestating health problems in later life.

Joey is a sensible boy fully aware of the risks. Surrounded by his parents, brother Ben, and their friendly dog Ronnie, he happily points out that people with diabetes now have the same life expectancy as everyone else.

But Joey’s dad Matt says he has met families not receiving the same levels of care.

‘You talk to other people in other health authority areas and they seem to have different experiences. I’ve heard of some people moving house to get into a different region.’

It was the end of the summer term and Joey was enjoying the hot weather, playing tennis and going out with his friends when his symptoms developed.

These include tiredness, needing the toilet a lot, thirst and, as Joey adds, ‘being grumpy’ although Tina looks at him and says ‘that’s you, you’re often grumpy’.

The diagnosis was a complete shock.

‘It was pretty scary,’ says Tina. ‘And then the realisation hits you – that this isn’t just for a few weeks, it’s for life.’

And for Joey it was a lot to take in.

‘I didn’t like it at first, I didn’t want my friends to know,’ he says. But now they all recognise when he’s in danger of a hypo. Then he needs glucose tablets and food or drink quickly.

Joey and his family were taught how to inject insulin and Tina was even allowed to try it on herself with a dummy saline solution.

‘That’s so I could feel what it was like as it can be quite upsetting for parents. We have really had brilliant support,’ she says.

The diabetes team frequently changes the recommended insulin doses on Joey’s charts as these change as he grows. He also has regular health checks.

‘There is a lot of management of Joey’s health and it’s come just at a time when he should be becoming more independent,’ says Tina.

‘When he was diagnosed he was due to go to Scout camp and that was all he was worried about.

‘Well he went, but so did I.’

The family also had a holiday in Africa booked and decided to go.

‘We were in touch with the hospital, though. In fact I was e-mailing them from the Masai Mara,’ laughs Matt.

Gradually Joey is gaining independence as the family establishes routines.

And his parents are grateful that they have such a logical, practical son who knows what to do to stay healthy.

DIABETES

The two main types of diabetes are known as Type 1 and Type 2. These are distinct forms of the condition and are treated differently.

Type 1 develops when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. As a result the body is unable to produce insulin and this leads to increased blood glucose levels, which in turn can cause serious damage to all organ systems in the body.

It is usually diagnosed early in life and is treated with insulin injections or by using an insulin pump.

Type 2 develops when the body does not produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood glucose level. It can also develop when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin that is being produced.

It is the most widespread form of the condition and usually affects people later in life.

Type 2 can be treated with diet and physical activity alone, or by combining these with tablets.

Insulin causes the cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from blood and convert it to glycogen that can be stored in the liver and muscles

Diabetes UK is a support charity for people with diabetes. It offers information, advice and local support groups run by volunteers.

Another charity for people with Type 1 is JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). Visit jdrf.org.uk and diabetes.org.uk.