DESPITE five daily insulin injections, constant calorie and carbohydrate counts to control blood sugar levels, it is people’s ignorance which has proved the most difficult to cope with for Type 1 diabetes sufferer Emily Alexander.
As Diabetes Awareness Week gets under way today, the 12-year-old Ridgeway School pupil, who was diagnosed aged three, is determined to educate people about the condition which affects more than 11,000 people in Swindon.
Emily had been a typical toddler when she suddenly began losing weight, urinating constantly and becoming extremely irritable. One morning she was nearly comatose and her mother Judith, who suspected she may be diabetic, took her to the GP who confirmed her fears.
“She had always been a very typical toddler,” said the Wroughton teacher. “Then she started to feel a bit poorly, she was quite moody and very pale, with dark circles under her eyes.
“One night she went to bed and drank a whole pint of water, and then completely filled the potty and I just thought she must be diabetic. She didn’t want to wake up in the morning, but I took her to the GP who sent us to hospital.”
Back then, Emily’s blood glucose level had to be constantly checked, even during her sleep. When she reached school age, her mother popped in every lunchtime to inject her with insulin.
Three years later, Emily learnt to prick her finger to check her blood and by the age of nine was injecting herself and able to count the amount of calories and carbohydrates she took in during the day.
“It changes everything,” added Judith. “Every time she eats she has to have an injection. You constantly have to watch for signs she is hypo(glycemic) or hyper(glycaemic). You check if she is sleepy or irritable.
“It’s constant, you don’t have a day off. She does it all herself now; she is so responsible.”
Latest figures from NHS Swindon CCG show that almost 11,100 people over 17 suffer from diabetes in the town. Of them, more than 1,000 have Type 1 diabetes. An estimated 600 people have undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes in the area.
There are about 35,000 children and young people with diabetes, under the age of 19, in the UK.
Type 1 diabetes develops when insulin-producing cells have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce insulin. No one can do anything to prevent developing Type 1.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells are unable to produce enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly. Family history, age and ethnic background can affect a person’s risk of developing Type 2, and overweight people are more likely to develop it.
Emily has no memory of a time without constant monitoring.
“I’m okay with having it,” she said. “I just get on with it, I’m used to it. The first thing I do in the morning is check my blood.
“And sometimes, when there is a sports day at school, you’ve got to carry around a bottle of Lucozade, insulin and a carbohydrate because you use more energy so you can become hypoglycaemic. You want to be the same as everyone else but you can’t. It’s non-stop.”
It may have become second-nature to her but the constant questions and barrage of ignorance and misconceptions have proved frustrating over the years.
“I don’t feel different but I know that people just can’t get their head around it and they probably think I’m different,” she added.
“If I could get one thing out there it’s that Type 1 and Type 2 are very different. It annoys me when people don’t know the difference. A very common question is ‘Did you eat too many sweets?’ It gets on my nerves so much because it refers to Type 2.”
To find out more about diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.uk