Diabetes: a lost childhood
On the day five years ago when my daughter Izzi, then aged 10, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, her seven-year-old brother Rowan was reluctant to visit her in the hospital. "Is she going to die?" he asked gravely. It was hard to reassure him through my tears, as I had only the vaguest idea of what type 1 diabetes was. I now know that, without insulin, which she will need to inject multiple times every day for the rest of her life, the answer would almost certainly have been yes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which insulin-producing cells in the pancreas just give up. No one knows why, and there is no cure. Izzi did nothing to cause this to happen and we have no family history of the condition, so, for us, there is no genetic link. She was just unlucky, like the 400,000 other people in the UK who have it. The condition is a life sentence: every organ in her body is under constant attack and the only defence is to pump herself full of insulin.
We only realised something was wrong when Izzi started to drink large quantities of water. At first I was pleased: I had always thought she didn't drink enough. But when one day she forgot to take her water bottle to school and went into a massive panic, I began to suspect there was a problem. We later learned that the need to drink lots was a result of her body's attempt to flush out the excess sugar in her blood. Insulin is the hormone that acts as a key to unlock pathways between the blood and the body's cells, which need the sugar for energy. Without insulin, the concentration of sugar in the blood can build up to Continue reading