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Living with diabetes

Thomas Mulgrew, 28, of Newcastle, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was just 2 years old.

"There wasn’t any particular “light bulb” moment that I realised I had diabetes; I think possibly when I’d started primary school - having to have injections or testing my glucose levels when other kids didn’t.

"When you're that young it’s probably quite hard to have a full understanding of what it is - you aren’t exactly going to be successful trying to tell a four-year-old they have a chronic, lifelong auto immune disease that stops your pancreas from functioning properly -  but  I was aware it was something that, at times, made me feel sick and at other times made me feel confused and tired – I knew it was something where my mum had to look at what I ate and that I’d have to be careful when I was playing with friends – but I don’t think a full understanding can really come until you’re an adult.

"You can of course know what it is to an extent, but because it affects people differently, and because you have to treat it in a different way to other people, it can be a lot to wrap your head around.

"When I was 15, I knew exactly what my insulin was doing, but I had very little to no idea about things such as diabetic retinopathy or the impact of muscle mass on insulin sensitivity, it’s forever a learning experience.

"My early life with diabetes probably didn’t differ too much from any other kid. Of course, I had to have my injections, regular hospital visits etc, but it isn’t until you start to learn about the condition and experience living with it that you fully understand the condition you're dealing with.

"The real difference in my early life, and even to this day, was probably the worry my family had, particularly my mum. Having to make sure your son isn’t showing symptoms of poor diabetic care, hypo and hyperglycaemia, alongside learning skills such as carbohydrate counting is an extra strain most parents don't have.

"I think I learnt to manage my diabetes because I’d never known any different. There was never a time, that I can remember, where I wasn’t diabetic. I was diagnosed in the late 1990’s, in Germany, where our family were living at the time, and my mum was taught carbohydrate counting, which is probably the most important diabetes lesson she passed on to me. Whilst I was nowhere near perfect as a teenager, this ability growing up allowed me to prevent many hypo/hyperglycaemic events - which in all reality could have ended up with me being in hospital otherwise.

"We moved back to the UK when I was 4, and as a child the help we got from the paediatric diabetes team at Darlington Memorial Hospital was second to none - their help will forever be appreciated.

"My diabetes now is managed in several ways. I use an insulin pump with a linked sensor, allowing both auto corrections when my glucose is too high and a reduction in insulin when it gets too low. This on its own has been one of the biggest changes in my diabetic life. Whilst it isn’t going to stop your glucose levels being high if you eat a mars bar and don’t tell it, it helps prevent unexpected highs and unexpected lows. There is also a real risk to diabetics of hypoglycaemia whilst sleeping - this device has dramatically reduced the chances of this happening and I would fully recommend any type one diabetic, if given the chance, to take up the hybrid/closed loop systems if they can.

"I do still visit my GP or diabetic consultant for reviews of my HBA1C, alongside blood tests, in fact I've got one coming up in the next couple of months and being 28, I'm also invited to yearly eye screenings with the diabetic retinopathy team – again the team at Hundens Lane Rehabilitation Unit, Darlington, deserve special mention for how easy they make these appointments.

"I've gone to all my health checks every year and this year was told that I had diabetic retinopathy, due to me having diabetes for 26 years. As I'm now aware of this I can manage it with future treatment if necessary - which I wouldn't have known if I hadn't  attended my appointment.

"Things do go wrong at times but thankfully they haven’t gone 'too wrong' in a long time.

"This is mainly due to being aware of  the symptoms of hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia but also the fact the glucose sensor on my arm is linked to my insulin pump which corrects any issues and also sounds off an alert when things change dramatically - this is linked to my watch too - two alarms are better than one!

"I would say it’s better to be prepared and nothing happen than have to react unprepared. Let people at your work know about your health condition, as well as any sports facilities or groups you are part of. This doesn’t have to be a power point presentation but a simple “if I don’t look too great, there’s a glucogel in my bag, please can you get it”.

"One thing I would recommend to all type one diabetics, and anyone with a chronic medical condition, is to get some form of medic alert ID. If the worst happens, and paramedics are needed, they can immediately see from my ID, I have it on a necklace, that I’m a type one diabetic on insulin alongside an account registered with Medic Alert.

"Having diabetes can have limitations for some people. It means you can't join the armed forces and to a limited extent the emergency services, however this has not caused me any concern. I can still play sports, go out with my friends, work, walk the dog and go abroad - in 2024 diabetes shouldn’t prevent you doing anything, just make sure you are carrying a glucogel.

"I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve been fortunate enough that my partner knew me before we got together as a couple and therefore knew I had diabetes. As I said before, diabetes shouldn’t prevent you doing anything. If it seems like it may be a big deal for you, just make it clear that you have type one diabetes. Most people would want to know, out of a principal of care, but at the end of the day, your condition doesn’t change who you are as a person.

"My diabetes, over the years, has provided a somewhat rollercoaster of emotion. I think it can be difficult to deal with, knowing you have a condition that currently has no cure and throughout history has been known to cause a lot of issues for people. I think it should be noted that 20 percent of type one diabetics are affected by moderate to severe depression. It’s understandable why. I do think however as I’ve got older, I say older, I am 28,  but having the condition for a quarter of a century does leave me some room to talk about this, you do realise you can live a mostly normal life. There are times of frustration when you can’t bring your glucose levels down and you feel close to being sick, however this is temporary. As long as you monitor your glucose levels and use the medical facilities available, there is no reason you shouldn’t be hopeful about your future.

"In all honesty I don't believe there is enough information about diabetes. I think the general media, alongside at times, information provided by medical professionals are unable to differ type one from type two diabetes. This can be both frustrating and disheartening when you hear from a colleague or stranger who says, “Oh I thought you got diabetes when you get old, my Grandma got it when she was 70”.

"The best support going comes from your local NHS trust. I would fully recommend getting the contact details for your diabetic team and if you’ve got questions, please ask.

"Support is a broad term though, so ensure you talk to close friends or family if you have problems. There are a lot of side effects from diabetes, so just because one avenue hasn’t resolved an issue doesn’t mean another won't. If there is a specific problem you find you aren’t getting an answer for Diabetes UK have a great website, chat forums and their own contact details.

"Health checks are important, whether this is for your glucose levels, kidney function, eye screenings or gum health. A medical professional may be able to stop a problem way before symptoms start, so if you are offered an appointment make sure you attend it.

"My experiences with health checks have been positive. As I’ve said, the Hundens Lane eye screening team have been fantastic, and I’ve had a lot of support from the diabetic nurses at Darlington Memorial Hospital over the years – whether that be  questions about insulin pumps or reviewing blood tests. COVID-19 did cause a few bumps in the road with scheduled sessions, but that seems to be on its way to being resolved now.

"Diabetes is something I live with. It's something I've learnt to manage and control to enable me to live a healthy life –  it doesn't define me as a person."


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