Call for an increased awareness of diabetes

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AS figures were released last week showing a sharp rise in the number of adults in Banbridge diagnosed with diabetes, one local mother has called for increased understanding of the condition in children.

Sarah McDonnell, whose 12 year-old son Rhys was diagnosed with Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes aged eight when he lapsed into a diabetic-induced coma, said it was important for people to understand the distinction between the two types - and refrain from being judgemental.

“There is all this media-driven frenzy about diabetes and how you get it if you don’t have a healthy lifestyle, don’t exercise and get too fat,” said Sarah, who is hoping to help set up a new support group for Banbridge sufferers.“While that may be the case in adults with Type 2 diabetes, it is certainly not with children who have Type 1,” she added.

“When people are ignorant of the facts surrounding diabetes and think that somehow mothers are responsible for their children having the condition, it can add to feelings of fear and guilt we already live with every day.”

She speaks from experience, having received the sharp end of a stranger’s tongue while giving her son a necessary sugar boost during a shopping trip to Rushmere in Craigavon: “Rhys had been feeling low, so we tested his blood in a shop and I gave him a bar of chocolate which he needed at the time.

“Unbeliveably, a woman had been watching us and came over to tell me that it was little wonder my son has diabetes if I keep feeding him on chocolate. That is the level of ignorance you sometimes have to deal with.”

In Rhys’ case, it is believed a viral infection attacked his pancreas - the organ responsible for the production of insulin which controls the body’s blood sugar levels - and left it unable to function properly.

“The pancreas is the weakest organ in the body and doctors believe a viral infection can damage it to the extent it won’t produce the insulin the body needs,” explains Sarah, also mum to Rachel (14). “Unfortunately, with Rhys there was no ‘honeymoon’ period and he fell into a diabetic coma very quickly after coming down with what the doctors believed was just a nasty viral infection.

“It was very frightening, very dangerous and very dramatic and I would advise any parent whose child is ill to ask for a blood test to make sure the symptoms are not those of diabetes.

“It was only when we couldn’t get him wakened up one morning and he was rushed to hospital that the real cause of what was making him ill became clear.”

Unfortunately, Rhys was diagnosed with ‘brittle diabetes’, a severe form and difficult to control, meaning instead of daily injections, he now wears a pump around his stomach which automatically releases the insulin he needs directly into his stomach.

But, despite also suffering from coeliac disease, he remains an active and enthusiastic pupil at Newbridge College and refuses to let the condition hold him back - he has even taken up karate and made a promotional DVD for Diabetes UK about his life with the pump.

“The pump has given Rhys a new lease of life,” adds Sarah. “It has taken a while, but, as a family, we have all learned to live with diabetes and deal with it. It would be great if more members of the public could now do the same. This disease can happen to anyone.”