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Diabetes UK: improving lives for 80 years

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Diabetes UK is 80 years old. Happily, a lot has changed for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes since 1934.Over the years, we’ve witnessed some incredible discoveries that have shaped how diabetes is managed and treated today, as our research timeline reveals.In the light of these much welcomed milestones, three very different supporters share their stories.

"It was wartime – we couldn’t get to a hospital"

Iris Smith

"It was wartime – we couldn’t get to a hospital"

Iris Smith lives in Newcastle and will be 90 years old in May. Over 70 years ago, during the Second World War, she was diagnosed with Type 1 at just 17 years of age. Here, she tells her story:

When I was almost 18, I got pneumonia and fell into a diabetic coma – that’s how I was diagnosed.

My weight fell to 7st. I drank loads and was always spending a penny, but in those days we didn’t know about diabetes. It was 1941 – wartime – so we couldn’t get to a hospital.

My family paid for me to stay in a private nursing home for a fortnight. I was taught to inject using a syringe in a cushion! I was put on a special diet and took insulin injections in my leg and tummy. I remember the needle was big and kept in a silver box. Now, the needles are much better.

I wasn’t impressed at being stuck in that nursing home. When I got home, my mother made me go to bed at 8pm for a month. I was furious, but if it wasn’t for her strictness I wouldn’t be here today. I remember getting so cross that I couldn’t have ice cream and kept pestering my mother for some. Soon enough I got used to the idea, though.

Diabetes doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I manage it fine. I’ve never asked for help. But, some of my friends have almost fainted when I’ve injected! I worked or many years (including a stint at the Ministry of Pensions) and have been on holiday to all sorts of places, like Cuba and Jamaica.

We just go all-inclusive, so that I can choose my food. In the future, I’d like people recently diagnosed with diabetes to have more support. It would make things easier for them, especially the young people who have to inject. It must be so hard for them.

"In minutes, a finger prick test showed Allen had a count of 34.2mmol/l"

Allen Richardson

"In minutes, a finger prick test showed Allen had a count of 34.2mmol/l"

Allen Richardson, 10, from Buckinghamshire, was diagnosed with Type 1 just after his seventh birthday. His mum, Helen, explains that it hasn’t held him back:

Allen didn’t seem himself and was drinking and going to the loo more than normal. My friend’s daughter has Type 1 and said that diabetes could be to blame. I called the emergency doctor on Saturday night and we were sent to A&E and told to take an overnight bag.

Within 10 minutes of arriving, a finger prick test showed Allen had a blood glucose level of 34.2mmol/l. My main memory is being bombarded with information.

In hindsight, we wish we could have stayed in hospital longer and been drip-fed information. Allen went back to school on the Monday. We decided from the start that we wouldn’t let this rule our lives. But, he was upset about his diagnosis.

Allen didn’t know anyone his own age with Type 1 – nobody at school has diabetes. He’s struggled, especially with testing and injections. Psychological support wasn’t available at the hospital due to lack of funding.

The toughest thing for Allen is remembering what it’s like not to be diabetic and being able to play football without stopping to test and inject – I miss the carefree days of parenting.

We’ve had some problems along the way. Recently, we’ve secured a transfer to another hospital because we weren’t happy with the treatment Allen was getting locally. So, we’re pleased about that.

Allen doesn’t let diabetes stop him. He walks to school on his own and still goes to all the clubs he used to go to. Between us, Allen and I have run 130 miles to fundraise for his Cub Scout group. He’s been nominated for two district council Young People’s Awards – the Community and the Courage awards.

Months after diagnosis, we attended a Diabetes UK Family Event. We felt less alone and I was reassured to hear another mum describe how I’d felt about grieving for the boy I had, pre-diagnosis.

Allen went to a Care Event last October and things have got so much better since then. He was dead set against insulin pumps before he left, but now he wants one, too!

In the future, I’d like care to be consistent across all hospitals. It’s a postcode lottery now. I also want more accessible psychological support for children and their parents after diagnosis. After all, you’ve just been told that your child has a life-threatening condition.

Finally, I’d like to see adult and children’s support groups running alongside each other. I’m working to make this happen in my local area.

"I’d like to see more support groups promoted"

Jeffrey Warlock

"I’d like to see more support groups promoted"

London-based computer programmer, Jeffrey Warlock, 57, was diagnosed with Type 2 four years ago. He has experienced some ups and downs with his control, as he explains here:

I didn’t feel 'different' before my diagnosis, except perhaps more tired, but that could have been explained by stress at work. An eye test indicated a potential blood pressure problem and I was advised to see my GP. Blood tests raised the possibility of diabetes, which was later confirmed after further tests.

Initially, the dietitian relied on me to bring my blood sugar levels under control by diet and exercise. Since I had the chance to get things under control myself, I was quite upbeat. Although I lost 7lb, there was no way to monitor my blood sugar levels to see if the changes I’d made were enough.

When told that my efforts had failed it was a bit of a blow. Adjustment hasn’t been easy. Control is an issue. I’m at the age where food is one of the few pleasures left, so monitoring my food intake isn’t as good as it could be.

A lack of test strips means I don’t check my blood sugar very often. I bought some tests strips myself to check the impact of certain foods and was shocked to discover the impact of things like chips on my blood sugar levels

At the time of diagnosis my treatment was fairly lax with periodic check-ups and a slow increase in medication. Since complaining to the surgery about not being recalled for an annual check-up, I’ve seen their diabetic nurse for the first time.

She gave me a hard time! As a result, my control did improve and I’ve not had to go on insulin. That said, I’m on the maximum medication they can give me and I’ve been warned to keep things under control. I take more exercise now and I do feel less tired than I used to.

Diabetes UK has definitely helped over the years. balance has directed me to information sources, which have shed more light on my condition. It also helps keep me informed of developments in treatment methods, so I wouldn’t have known about my annual check-up without balance.

In the future, I’d like to see more encouragement to use blood sugar meters, so people can clearly see the foods that cause massive sugar spikes. There’s nothing like a bit of a shock to wake people up! Also, more support groups. They’d help me focus on what I should be doing to keep my diabetes under control. Partners should be welcome, too, so they can understand what we’re going through.

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