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George's story - giving something back

George West

George West

George West was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes four years ago

I was inspired to volunteer because I found the Diabetes UK website so valuable and learnt so much. I wanted to give something back.

George was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes four years ago when he was 22. He began volunteering for us about a year and a half later.  

“It took me a long time to process everything. I was given information about diabetes and Diabetes UK when I was diagnosed. But it wasn’t until I was directed to the website by my clinic that I started to look for information. I was inspired to volunteer because I found the website so valuable and learnt so much. I wanted to give something back.”

Volunteering

Getting involved with Diabetes UK

After running the Sheffield 10K to raise money for the charity, George took part in a six-week community project in Barnsley. Barnsley is one of the worst affected areas in the country for diabetes amputations, so George gave out information about foot care. This project was for Diabetes UK, but also counted towards his studies, as George is training to be a doctor. They won a prize from their medical school for the project.  

“It was quite a unique feeling knowing we were helping to reduce the amputation rate.”  

Every week of the community project, George’s Volunteer Coordinator Emma found him different events to go to. George gave out leaflets at a shopping centre, visited day centres and raised awareness of the 4Ts at a school and a nursery. Hundreds of people took leaflets over the six weeks, and most people they spoke to knew someone affected by diabetes.  

Diabetes UK and me

The ‘Time to Thrive’ conference

The ‘Time to Thrive’ conference that he spoke at in November 2019 felt like a turning point for George and when his volunteering really kicked off. The conference was an informal event for both healthcare professionals and people affected by diabetes. It focused on emotional health and diabetes.   

In his speech, George reflected on his diagnosis for the first time and spoke about the relentlessness of diabetes. He spoke with the Head of the North at Diabetes UK, Clare Howarth, who encouraged him to bring his personal perspective to the audience.  

“She said that although we knew that diabetes was relentless, the health care professionals in the room weren’t living with it day to day. So this would be a chance to start a discussion. I told the story of my best friend being diagnosed with type 1 when we were in Year 7 at school. When my friend told me she had diabetes, I asked “can I catch it off you?”

I titled my talk ‘Can I catch diabetes?’. I spoke about this moment right through to where I was then, my experience at university and how being diagnosed with diabetes had changed my life.”  

Activity

Recent volunteering

In 2020, George was invited to speak at an online event with our Senior Physical Activity Advisor, Neil Gibson. Although it was challenging at first, George found returning to playing rugby and doing exercise helped his diabetes. 

He’s keen to break down barriers to exercise and to help people to feel confident to move more.  

“Not everyone has access to a gym, or they might not be able to afford the membership or live nearby. Or they might have a busy life and family and find it hard to find the time. Moving is so important though. It gives you happy hormones, it increases your insulin sensitivity so you can inject less.

"It also helps you to feel good about your body image. You can take small steps to move more, even just standing up from an armchair. It might not seem much, but it can make a difference.”   

In the past, George has helped at our type 1 children and family events, an experience he loved. In February 2021, he shared his experience and answered questions as part of a panel at an online event for those newly diagnosed.  

Earlier this year, George shared his journey with diabetes on our website. He spoke about life as a junior doctor and his experience of navigating the pandemic and getting the vaccine. 

Life with diabetes

Staying connected

To help raise awareness, George started an Instagram account called @LearnDiabetes with a few other NHS doctors. Through this they post information about diabetes, and hope to reduce misconceptions and stigma about it by sharing the facts.  

He’s also found social media a great way to stay connected with others during the pandemic.   

“It’s been great to see everyone in the diabetes community come together and support each other through the pandemic. Creating my own Instagram account has really helped me stay connected with other volunteers and the diabetes community as well as the ‘Our friends in the North’ Facebook page.” 

Journey with diabetes

What's next for the future?

George is graduating this summer and he’s hoping to get away and have a break before he starts working life as a doctor. Interestingly, his first job will be on a diabetes ward.  

One of the things he enjoys most about volunteering is being able to meet other people with diabetes, so George’s looking forward to volunteering face-to-face again when it’s possible. He’d love to go to another type 1 weekender when they can start up, either as a general volunteer or as a medic.  

He’s also keen to take on a new physical challenge and fundraise for the charity again, perhaps setting his sights on the Three Peaks Challenge! 

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