The Lisburn girl displayed all the classic symptoms of the condition, an extreme thirst and frequent visits to the toilet, and before long Sarah (now 14) soon became gravely ill with DKA, diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition where the body’s normal chemical balance causes it to produce poisonous chemicals known as ketones. But Kathryn had no idea about the symptoms of the condition and believed the doctor would simply ‘give us a tablet to make her better and send us home.’
She soon realised that Sarah was one of over a thousand children in Northern Ireland who live with Type 1 diabetes. Kathryn last week joined Diabetes UK Northern Ireland at Stormont to mark World Diabetes Day and launch the charity’s new Children and Young Person’s Campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes.
“In the week leading up to Sarah’s diagnosis she was drinking loads of water - glass after glass - and she was going to the toilet a lot; even getting up in the middle of the night,” said Kathryn. “She was exhausted and generally not in good form, but I put this down to her just being back at school after the busy Christmas holidays. On the Saturday Sarah started to complain of a sore tummy. I asked all the usual questions- ‘when was the last time you went to the toilet?’, ‘Are you hungry?’ etc, but as I didn’t think it was serious, I didn’t want to bother the out of hours doctor - something I have regretted ever since. By that evening, Sarah still had a sore tummy and by this stage was drinking litres of water. She came into my room on Sunday morning and I will never forget it. She looked like someone had sucked everything from under her skin and just left her bones. She was white with big black circles around her eyes. You’d think that at this stage alarm bells would have rung, but I still didn’t want to bother the out-of-hours doctor so I gave her more Calpol and let her sleep on the sofa for most of the day. On the Monday morning we got an emergency appointment with our doctor and she suggested it could be a kidney infection... or diabetes. She gave us a prescription for antibiotics and sent us to the treatment room to get bloods taken. While we were there, the nurse happened to test Sarah’s blood glucose and it showed a very high reading so we were sent to A&E immediately. The whole way there Sarah was drifting in and out of a sleepy coma, I thought she was going to die in the back of my car. The next few hours were a bit of a blur as the medical team tried to get Sarah stabilised. She was in DKA but eventually, after an anxious wait, she was finally transferred to the ward. She was still so weak and weighed just four stone. Stupidly I thought the doctors were going to give us a tablet to make her better and send us home. I knew nothing about diabetes or the impact it would have on our lives. Had I known the signs and symptoms of diabetes, it may have alerted me a lot earlier and perhaps Sarah wouldn’t have been so ill when she was diagnosed. I can’t blame the doctors for not diagnosing her earlier as it was me who didn’t realise her symptoms were linked to the condition.”
Now that Kathryn knows the signs and symptoms which she has told her friends she feels that more parents should be educated about the signs and symptoms of diabetes. When her friend’s daughter began to drink lots of water and was sent to the doctor and after a blood glucose test she too was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “Thankfully as a result of spotting the signs her story ended much better than ours,” she said. “Sarah and I are backing Diabetes UK’s campaign because it’s so important that parents are educated.”
in the signs and symptoms of diabetes. We all know the symptoms of meningitis and other childhood illnesses so hopefully through this campaign, more of us will be aware of Type 1 diabetes too.”
Iain Foster, National Director of Diabetes UK Northern Ireland said “It’s a scary fact that too many of our children are ending up seriously ill in hospital as a result of missed symptoms or mis-diagnosis.
“With DKA the child has gone from feeling a bit off colour to very unwell in a short space of time and it is imperative that we try and prevent this. As well as creating awareness among parents and indeed all those who come into contact with children, we will be working with healthcare professionals to ensure that they too are more alert to the symptoms and that the right tests are carried out when a child presents with any one of them. By doing so we hope that more cases of Type 1 diabetes will be diagnosed before DKA develops.”
The most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes in children and young people are going to the toilet a lot, bedwetting in a previously dry child or heavier nappies in babies, being very thirsty and not being able to quench that thirst, feeling very tired and losing weight or looking thinner than usual.
The Diabetes UK Careline (0845 120 2960) offers information and support on any aspect of managing diabetes. The line is a lo-call number and opens Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm (operates a translation service). Recorded information on a number of diabetes-related topics is also available on this number 24 hours a day.