High Wycombe RAF Squadron Leader runs Bupa Great North Run for daughters with diabetes
The RAF Squadron Leader has chosen to run for leading health charity Diabetes UK as two of his three daughters have Type 1 diabetes. The older of the two, Hannah, now 23, was diagnosed when she was just five years old. A misdiagnosis of a ‘minor illness’ by their GP at the time left Hannah in a critical condition.
“It wasn’t until she deteriorated rapidly and was taken into hospital that she was correctly diagnosed”, remembers Tony.
“By that time she had a blood glucose level reading in excess of 50mmol [normal levels are between four and six mmols] and was going down hill fast. With three drips in her and numerous doctors and nurses attending to her, it was a tense 24 hours.”
Eventually the hospital team was able to stabilise Hannah and bring her condition under control. The family then faced the steep learning curve of how to manage their daughter’s diabetes. For the rest of her life, Hannah now had to become accustomed to a new daily routine of finger prick blood tests, insulin injections and a step change to her eating habits.
As if one diagnosis of a serious life-long condition was not enough for one family, Hannah’s younger sister Victoria, now 17, was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 12.
“My wife, Tamar, and I spotted the warning signs ourselves – the constant thirst and lethargy – in fact, we diagnosed it via a finger prick blood test, using Hannah’s kit”, explains Tony.
“That said, it was still a very emotional time, knowing that she was now going to have to do injections for the rest of her life. She had grown up seeing her sister have some pretty uncomfortable experiences and now she was going to have to go through the same; there were quite a few tears that night”, he said.
Tony cites adolescence as the hardest period so far for his daughters, mainly as a result of ignorance on the part of both their peers and adults.
“Tamar and I had to listen to one teacher tell us how Hannah didn’t need to eat regularly because she only had ‘a mild case of diabetes’ unlike her who ‘had a friend who is in hospital due to complications of Type 2 diabetes’. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are equally as serious; it is a common myth there is a ‘mild’ form of the condition.
Like lots of teenage girls who struggle with body image issues, Hannah developed an eating disorder whilst at secondary school. Unfortunately, in an effort to lose weight and remain thin she started to use her insulin, or lack of it, as a means of controlling what she ate, a condition known as ‘diabulimia’.2
“Diabulimia has had a significant impact on Hannah’s health. Having had constantly high blood sugar levels meant she has had to have numerous operations on her eyes as diabetic retinopathy developed, to such an extent that for a significant period of time she lost her driving licence”, said Tony.
“In addition, her immune system has weakened somewhat meaning she was very susceptible to a whole raft of infections, which in turn led to further complications. On a positive note, the care and support provided by Stoke Mandeville hospital has been first rate, evidenced by the fact that her sight has now stabilised to the extent that she has been able to regain her driving licence”, he added.
Despite the daily routine of multiple injections, blood tests and diet constraints, both girls achieved ten A to C grades in their GCSEs, Hannah passed her A-Levels and now works for the Civil Service while Victoria is in the midst of her A-Levels and is looking to go to university.
Tony is no stranger to running having completed the Great North Run in 2008, raising over £600; the Three Peaks Challenge in 1997, raising over £750; the RAF ‘Bruggen 10’-mile run, raising £250; as well as many other fundraisers including Diabetes UK’s ‘Walk in The Park’.
“Being in the RAF I like to stay reasonable fit; I run three to five miles two to three times a week as well as other activities like spinning, circuits and taking our dogs for a walk. I recently completed a 10km-run around Silverstone race track in a respectable time of 47 minutes”, said Tony.
Citing his reasons for raising funds for Diabetes UK Tony added: “Anything I can do to improve the quality of life for those affected by diabetes is worth striving for”, he said.