Living with juvenile diabetes

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What causes Type 1 diabetes to develop? Researchers and scientists around the world are working hard to find the answers to this question. Genetics might play a small role as to why a child might develop Type 1 diabetes, but there are a lot of other factors that as of yet remain unclear. Dr Kowshik Gupta, paediatric endocrinologist at the GluCare Integrated Diabetes Center in Dubai, says, “We do know that it is not related to diet or lifestyle. For Type 2 diabetes however, there are numerous risk factors that parents should take into consideration, such as unhealthy eating and lifestyle, being clinically overweight, a positive family history and sometimes ethnicity and a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise or activities.”

Dr Kowshik Gupta is a pediatric endocrinologist at the GluCare Integrated Diabetes Center.
Image Credit: Supplied

For busy parents with multiple children, sometimes some of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes in children can go unnoticed for a period or may be attributed to growth or normal childhood activity such as sports, says Dr Kowshik Gupta. “Symptoms to look out for include increased thirst, frequent urination which can sometimes result in bed-wetting, extreme hunger, fatigue, unexpected or unintentional weight loss, change in mood, behaviour or irritability and fruity smelling breath. Parents should consult with a doctor if they see a number of these symptoms presenting in their children,” he explains.

For children at risk of Type 2, it’s important that you have regular visits with your doctor if your child is overweight, with a lack of physical activity and getting proper nutrition in the form of fresh whole foods. Caring for a diabetic child can seem like having an additional full-time job with constant monitoring and ensuring that they are adhering to their “care plan” which includes monitoring blood glucose levels, insulin shots, strict adherence to diet and medication plans. Two Dubai mothers share with us here their personal journeys.

“We learnt to manage the diabetes and not allow it to manage us”

Living with diabetes makes you stronger, says Maria Monem, seen here with her daughter
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Four years ago when my daughter was only five years old, she got diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Despite the fact that my husband had lived with the condition himself for over 30 years, it came as a complete shock to us. When the doctor gave us the news, it was as if time just stopped. My first thought was, how had we not seen the symptoms? We were already experts on the subject. How could we possibly not have seen this coming?

I remember the day she was diagnosed as if it was yesterday. She had been sick for over a week and, after two visits to the doctor, we had been sent back home with a scarlet fever diagnosis and a prescription for antibiotics. She should have improved on the medication, but instead she was getting worse. She was in such a bad state that she could hardly stay awake and was curled up on the sofa with stomach pain and headaches. We rushed her to the ER, where she was diagnosed with diabetes after a simple finger-prick test.

A diabetes diagnosis is a life-changing event that affects the whole family; it brought our lives to a complete standstill at first and the following weeks and months were an emotional roller coaster. I had so many questions and worries. I started thinking of how she would be able to have playdates, sleepovers and what about school trips and holidays? How would school be able to manage her?

I was determined not to let this disease take over our lives. We were going to learn to manage the diabetes and not allow the diabetes to manage us. Gathering knowledge about the disease, eating a healthy diet, exercise and getting good sleep is key to good diabetes management as well as using the technology available for people with diabetes such as Continuous Glucose Monitoring systems (CGMs), insulin pumps, injection ports etc. I can now track my daughter’s blood sugars on my phone while she is in school or having playdates, and I feel more confident now with her going on a school trip, knowing that I can follow and track her through the CGM App.

Living with chronic disease can be both stressful and overwhelming at times, both for the child as well as the parents and the siblings but trying to work towards healthy lifestyle habits as a family and having a good support network around us has helped us.

Maria Monem, health and lifestyle coach

‘Diabetes never rests’

Roxanne with her daughter Layla, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at four and a half years
Image Credit: Supplied

My daughter Layla, who is seven years old, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in September 2018 at four-and-a-half years old. After noticing some worrying symptoms – weight loss, personality change, blurry vision and constant thirst for water we took her to the emergency rooms at our local hospital where she was admitted into the paediatric ICU with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). She spent three nights there until her blood sugar was under control and we were sent home with an insulin pen and blood glucose monitor and the rest was up to us.

Layla takes multiple daily injections of insulin before each meal, or anytime she needs to eat something with a high carbohydrate count. We are lucky enough to be able to afford a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) which allows us to receive updates of her sugar levels every five minutes, and we can track it remotely on our phones. This allows her to avoid multiple finger pricks throughout the day to check her sugar levels making sure they’re not too high or low. Her school has a fantastic nurse who is always just a phone call away for any emergencies and her teacher also takes an active role in making sure Layla is well during the school day.

Diabetes never rests – management occurs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Blood sugar checks throughout the night can lead to caregiver burnout and fatigue, so having another parent/ caregiver to take shifts is a help. As a parent it is also difficult to see your child in pain (daily injections), fearful ( blood tests every 3 months) and feeling ‘different’ to other kids.

Diabetes does not stop her living her best life. She plays tennis, does horse riding, plays guitar and participates in all school activities.

Roxanne Francis, physiotherapist at Nightingale Health Services

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