It’s 90 years since diabetics first began using the insulin that gives them a chance to lead a normal life. SARAH FOSTER talks to three people about how they cope with diabetes.
When you’re 10 and you’ve just been told you have a disease that you’ve never even heard of, you’re bound to be a bit scared.
That’s exactly how it was for Chloe Yates when doctors told her she had diabetes.
It was three days before Christmas when a routine trip to the GP surgery revealed her blood sugar levels were dangerously high.
Left untreated for much longer, Chloe would have slipped into a diabetic coma.
Thankfully, three days in hospital helped stabilise her. But it was the start of an emotional journey for the whole family that’s had tears and setbacks along the way.
‘We didn’t know anything about diabetes,’ says mum, Marnie.
‘I stayed with her in hospital and they produced this massive folder to look at and it was all about diabetes.
‘When she slept I cried and read, cried and read.’
The family had been looking forward to Christmas when Marnie first noticed something was wrong.
Chloe was going to the toilet a lot and her mum suspected a water infection.
A quick test revealed that wasn’t the case – but her blood sugar level was sky-high.
The City of Portsmouth Girls’ School pupil was sent straight to Queen Alexandra Hospital and the family, from Copnor, were told it was diabetes.
‘I didn’t really know what it was,’ says Chloe, now 13.
‘I was in hospital for three days but when I came out I felt much better.
‘It was scary at first.’
Marnie and husband Michael had to have a crash course in coping with their daughter’s illness and all it would mean for the future.
And that’s something many families in the area are currently dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
There are 54,761 diabetics in the Hampshire Primary Care Trust area and 8,518 more in Portsmouth.
More than 130,000 people were diagnosed with diabetes in the UK last year, with the numbers expected to soar to five million by 2030.
While the rest of us produce insulin to regulate the level of glucose in our blood, diabetics are unable to produce the hormone.
When blood sugar levels fall too low, a hypo can be triggered and that can cause symptoms, including dizziness and poor concentration.
In order to prevent that happening, diabetics like Chloe must keep a close eye on their blood glucose levels themselves, often by pricking their finger to produce blood for a testing strip.
Those who suffer from type one diabetes will need to inject themselves with insulin and at first, Chloe needed to give herself four jabs a day.
‘At first I used to do her insulin for her,’ says Marnie. ‘Then I’d do the one in her arm and bottom and she’d do the one in her leg and stomach.
‘Now she’s on one insulin injection and she does that herself. She’s really good about it.’
At the moment, Chloe is treated with a mixture of insulin injections and tablets but her medication is due to be reviewed this week.
Learning how to manage the condition is a vital challenge for everyone who has diabetes – no matter what their age – so Chloe’s had to watch what she eats.
The diabetes centre at QA has been there every step of the way and Chloe says she doesn’t feel any different to anyone else.
As she gets older, Marnie worries about how she will cope but Chloe says: ‘I just live my life each day as it comes.’
She adds: ‘I think there are other people out there that have much more serious injuries than me so I’m lucky.’
When Sue Young realised she’d been feeling tired and generally unwell, she took herself to the doctors.
But the blood test that revealed she had diabetes was the last thing she’d been expecting.
‘It was a complete shock,’ remembers Sue. ‘It was a bolt out of the blue. I know some people take it quite badly but I don’t think I did because I just assumed I wouldn’t be able to have sugar in my tea and things like that, which isn’t the case at all.
‘It’s much more complex.’
The 44-year-old, from Buckland, had underestimated what a dramatic change it would be.
Sue had to learn all about how carbohydrates would affect her glucose levels and the diabetes centre at QA arranged for her to take part in a couple of courses so she’d know what to expect.
‘It was an extreme wake-up call,’ she says. ‘I came out of there thinking: “This is serious”.
‘It wasn’t just about cakes and biscuits. It’s really important to get these blood sugar levels under control because the damage isn’t done now.
‘You can walk around with diabetes for years but the damage is being silently done.’
Initially she was diagnosed with type two diabetes but rapid weight loss helped reveal that she was in fact suffering from type one.
The team at QA put her on insulin and she now injects herself before meals and at night time. She tests her glucose levels throughout the day and keeps a close eye on what she eats.
No-one likes the idea of injecting themselves but Sue says it’s simply something you get used to doing.
‘I’m sure everyone feels overwhelmed at first,’ adds Sue. ‘But you do get past that.
‘It’s a lifestyle change. Once you get into that routine it’s just something that you do.’
‘I’m glad that I’m a diabetic in this century, not the last,’ says John Knight. ‘The average life expectancy wasn’t very good.
‘Insulin is keeping me alive. Without insulin, it wouldn’t be much of a life.’
The 60-year-old was diagnosed with type one diabetes around 20 years ago and has got into a routine that works for him.
The IT lecturer, from Farlington, says: ‘I was worried to start with because of the stories you hear but once you get into a routine it’s not so bad. I don’t let it run my life.
‘My diabetic nurse is fantastic. We get together two times a year for a check-up.’
John tests his glucose levels regularly throughout the day, eats well and injects himself with insulin four times a day.
He’s able to spot the signs when his levels have dropped too low and knows what to do in order to make himself feel better.
‘I get frustrated with it at times,’ adds the father-of-two. ‘If I’m out in the garden all day then I sometimes get a hypo coming on and then I know I’ve got to slow down and stop at that point.’