‘You mourn the loss of childhood’

Martin Horn and his wife Helen, from Fareham, and their two children Chloe and Megan. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14615-6)
Martin Horn and his wife Helen, from Fareham, and their two children Chloe and Megan. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14615-6)
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When Megan Horn asked for yet another drink on a hot spring bank holiday, her parents didn’t think there was cause for concern.

The weather was unseasonally warm, the little girl had been running around with friends and it was only natural that she should be thirsty.

04/03/14  PM''Megan Horn from Fareham who has type one diabetes.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14615-4)

04/03/14 PM''Megan Horn from Fareham who has type one diabetes.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14615-4)

Little did they know that within a week they would be in hospital learning how to give their daughter injections.

They had no idea they would have to learn how to regulate Megan’s meals, count the carbohydrate content in all her food and regularly test her blood glucose levels. And they couldn’t have comprehended that if they didn’t immediately adjust their lives to this complicated new meal-time regime, Megan’s life would be in danger.

A few days after that bank holiday, the Wickham youngster (pictured) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

And the family’s life – just like those of all children with the condition – changed forever.

Suddenly, Megan had to eat at certain times of the day and the little girl – who had a fear of needles – endured two daily injections.

Her parents had to understand and complete complicated charts of carbohydrate content and stick to meals created by hospital dieticians.

Looking over one of the bewildering charts of carb numbers, mum Helen recalls that stressful, emotional time of diagnosis three years ago.

Perhaps the most traumatic memory for Helen and husband Martin is giving those first injections.

‘Firstly we practised in an orange and then ourselves – I gave Megan her teatime injection, which is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.’

Diabetes type 1 is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high because the body doesn’t produce insulin.

If untreated, this seriously damages the organs.

Insulin has to be injected or administered, but glucose levels must be tested at all times as they can become too low.

Carbohydrates in the diet must be regulated because they are broken down into glucose.

Three years ago Megan, now eight, was displaying classic symptoms, including increased thirst, urinating frequently and tiredness.

Helen and Martin, also parents to four-year-old Chloe, have a grasp of the carb charts now and life has become more flexible as they have grown to understand the condition.

But it’s been a steep learning curve. ‘You have to be a mathematician, dietician, doctor, psychologist and also try to be a mum,’ says Helen.

That’s why it’s important parents and children receive the support they need from schools.

Megan and Helen recently went to Westminster to meet Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery and attend a reception held by charity Diabetes UK.

The event was in support of the charity’s Make The Grade campaign. This raises awareness of a new law requiring schools to produce individual care plans for children with medical conditions.

From next month, schools must work closely with relevant healthcare professionals, such as diabetes specialist nurses.

Megan and her family have been lucky as her school has been very supportive.

This is vital because diabetic patients can easily have hypos (blood glucose dips too low) and hypers (blood glucose is too high). If these are not treated, the result can be collapse and coma.

Not surprisingly the condition takes its toll on parents’ and youngsters’ emotional wellbeing.

‘Of course you are grateful that it’s a condition that can be treated and your child can live a pretty normal life,’ says Helen.

‘However, as reality sinks in you mourn the loss of childhood – from now on they have to be responsible for listening to their own bodies, always making sure they go out with testing kit and hypo treatments; stopping play to check blood sugars; not being able to eat ice cream and cake without thinking about it.’

On top of this, many children encounter difficulties at school. These have included teachers not allowing children to have snacks to treat 
dangerously high or low blood glucose levels and youngsters becoming ill when they have had to wait for food.

It can take a couple of hours to recover from a hypo, but there have been cases of pupils being disciplined for not concentrating in class.

Many parents have to give up work so they can regularly go to school for glucose checks and injections.

Megan is a clever, chatty girl who sees the bright side. ‘I go to the front of the line at lunchtime,’ she says.

But she has her meltdowns as she misses out on sleepovers and tries to deal with her situation.

The school care plans could ensure a child has a safe place to test blood glucose and that they are accompanied if they need to go to a nursing station.

This is important, because if blood glucose levels fall too low sufferers can become very confused.

Megan no longer has daily injections (instead insulin is given through a cannula) and the family have adjusted to their new life.

But they never know what is around the corner and they’re welcoming the new law.

‘This gets through that it’s a very serious condition and people can’t be blase,’ says Helen. ‘And at least it gives families somewhere to go, now there’s a legal requirement.’