Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Co Carlow children and their parents, who face the challenge of type 1 diabetes every day


By Suzanne Pender

WE CAN participate in sports. We can eat ice-cream and enjoy sweets. We can go to birthday parties and get-togethers. We don’t want to be, nor should we have to be, the odd ones out.

We have type 1 diabetes, but that does not limit us from living full and active lives.

This was the overwhelming message from a group of inspiring Co Carlow children and their parents, who face the challenge of type 1 diabetes daily, yet strive to meet those challenges head on.

The group took the opportunity of World Diabetes Day and November awareness month, to talk to ***The Nationalist*** about type 1 diabetes and to raise awareness of this life-changing condition. All of the children take daily insulin, some using a pump, others an injection. Their condition means they have to carb-count every morsel they consume, while always being acutely aware of just how much energy they have or will need – all of which influences the level of insulin they require.

What and when they eat, keeping a close eye on their ‘levels’ and always being mindful of how their body is feeling have become second nature to them and their families.

Undeniably, type 1 diabetes stubbornly remains a factor in everything they do, yet these remarkably resiliently children get on with it, living their lives without limits.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, where the body attacks its own cells that make insulin … insulin is vitally important, it’s what gives us energy,” explains Mary Fitzpatrick from Ballinabranna, whose 12-year-old daughter Nessa has the condition.

I’m passionate about people knowing the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition that is lifelong and has absolutely nothing to do with lifestyle or the amount of sugar you eat,” says Mary. “Type 2 is lifestyle related and can often be related to your weight and it can be reversed.”

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) often comes on people very quickly and can occur at any age, but normally at some stage during childhood. There are many signs of T1D, but the four main symptoms are thirst increase, reduced energy, sudden weight changes and increased toilet trips.

Sophie Brennan (7) from Ballinabranna was just two years’ old when she was diagnosed.

It was the last thing you’d think of,” explained her mum Leigh Cashman, who recalls just how serious is was for Sophie as medics struggled to discover what was wrong. In fact, at that time, little Sophie was so ill she was showing signs of the life-threatening diabetes ketoacidosis (DKA)

Parents should be aware of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes and I would say if your child is showing any of the signs, push for them to check the glucose levels in the blood; it’s just a simple finger prick,” said Leigh.

Thankfully, Sophie is now a bright and bubbly seven-year-old, who has embraced the incredible technology now available to aid those living with T1D. Like all of the children, she proudly wears her sensor attached to her arm to check glucose levels and also wears her insulin pump, tucked safety in her stylish bum bag, shining with glitter!

Smart phones, apps, watches and all sort of clever devices have advanced and aided families –vital tools in their management of T1D.

Leah Barron (15) from Ballon has just been diagnosed in the past year. In the midst of the pandemic, getting a diagnosis proved slow and difficult, with everything from appendicitis, a kidney infection and an ovarian cyst considered before Leah was finally diagnosed with T1D.

It’s been a big change and initially a lot of learning for Leah, her mum Gillian and their entire family, but they are now taking it in their stride.

I play camogie with Burren Rangers and I once had to come off during a match,” recalls Leah. “But you do find a way to make it work … it’s harder, but you can do it.”

A transition year student at Bunclody Vocational School, Leah laughs at some of the misconceptions that have been said to her about T1D.

You’re way too skinny to be a diabetic,” she was told, while she recalls the time a box of sweets was passed around the classroom, yet she wasn’t offered one.

Other people have commented and said ‘you can’t do that because you’ve got diabetes’ or maybe when you are eating your lunch early because you can’t wait and people says things,” says Leah. “Some people just don’t understand the seriousness of it.”

Active seven-year-old Charlie McGahern from Graiguecullen explains his daily routine. From getting his finger pricked in the morning and checking his blood sugars, to weighing out and carb-counting his food, he’s a mine of information about T1D.

We carb-count everything so we know the insulin needed,” explains his mum Amanda, adding that, like everyone with the condition, Charlie’s activity levels are also a factor in the daily amount of insulin administered.

Amanda explains that going through a growth spurt, illness and the type of food eaten can all affect the glucose levels.

All of the children talked about exclusion and incidents that have happened to them, where they’ve been made to feel different or left out because of their condition.

Amanda explains that of course children with T1D can go to birthday parties and eat sweets or ice-cream; they just have to adapt and monitor their insulin intake to allow for it.

They can have sugar, and when you think of it, at a birthday party they are running around using up lots of energy,” she says. “You can’t always be saying no to treats, but you just have to make allowances for it.”

Lucy Butler (9) wants to be a scientist when she grows up and her number one aim is to find a cure for T1D. In fact, she’s already started on a prototype and explains how she designed and drew a picture of her invention, outlining in detail how her machine is going to change lives.

Like all of the parents, Lucy’s mum Iwona is very proud of how her daughter is managing and adapting to T1D, the challenges she overcomes every day and the responsibility she’s shown.

For primary school children like Lucy and Charlie, the timing of staggering break times due to Covid restrictions have meant they are often inside eating because they have to, while their classmates are outside playing. That can be incredibly hard.

I’m sad inside of me, but sometimes the SNA plays solitaire with me and that’s fun,” Lucy smiles.

The children explain ‘hypo’, or its full term, hypoglycaemia, which happens when the blood sugar goes low and action needs to be taken immediately. Their sensor will activate an alarm and they know it’s time for a fast-action carb or a fruit juice.

I need a Capri-Sun in case I go low,” Sophie helpfully explains.

None of the families ever left home without all of their medical requirements and plenty of food!

Nessa recounts an incident the previous week at her kick-boxing class, when she felt unwell and had to go home. “I was so annoyed that I had to miss out, but that’s the first time I’ve had that at kick-boxing,” she says.

Leah agrees, adding: “You can fit in exercise, and it’s an extra challenge, but it always works out.”

Each of the children celebrated World Diabetes Day in their own way, spreading awareness in their schools and communities, baking cupcakes with T1D on them and proudly wearing T1D on t-shirts. Nessa made a video on T1D that was shown to all at Ballinabranna NS, while Sophie dyed her hair blue – the colour of T1D.

All of the families are part of Carlow/Kilkenny Type 1 Diabetes Parents’ Support Group and would encourage families to contact them, where they’ll always find lots of help and support. For further information, contact Mary Fitzpatrick on 086 8483354 or Leigh Cashman on 085 7367294.


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