‘It was like I’d been hit by a truck!’ said Jaymi. ‘We could see something was wrong and it was very worrying before the diagnosis.’
Ruby was about to celebrate her fifth birthday, but on the big day with all the presents and family around, she wasn’t her normal bubbly self. She’d had a cold which was dragging on. She had a dry throat and was drinking and going to the loo much more than normal.
As her symptoms got worse over the week, her mother, Jaymi, took Ruby to her GP. All seemed fine at first but after more tests, the doctor diagnosed type 1 diabetes.
‘We knew the dangers for a child with undiagnosed diabetes but when our doctor actually told us, it was devastating.'
The minute she was told the news, Jaymi’s mind was racing with questions and fears.
‘I thought about Ruby’s whole future. My first thought was that she was going to grow up not being able to enjoy any sweet treats or go to the pub and have a drink with her friends.
‘My second thought was how was she going to be able to have a baby when she’s older? And also how are we going to give her insulin or deal with multiple injections?’
Treatment and support
In Ruby’s case, she was put straight onto an insulin pump. The pump is about the size of a small mobile phone. It delivers a steady flow of short-acting insulin around the clock. Insulin pumps may be a possible alternative to injections for some people with type 1 diabetes.
There was so much information given to Jaymi and Ruby’s father that initially they couldn’t cope with it. They were still upset and anticipating problems they might face in the future.
‘Initially it’s like a grieving process; grieving for the life you thought your child would have had and now they are on a different path. So at first it’s really shocking and we didn’t know how to tell Ruby.’
Jaymi was full of admiration for the specialist diabetic nurses who helped the family a great deal. They took the utmost care to explain everything in child-friendly language and told Ruby straightaway she didn’t need a special diet. She should have a healthy, balanced diet like any other child, one that's high in fibre, fruit and vegetables, and low in fat, salt and sugar. They said it was vital to work out the carbohydrate value of everything she wanted to eat and drink then work out her insulin needs. The family was introduced to a children’s diabetes charity which provided them with help and support.
Ruby and her mother have been running a string of fund-raising events for diabetes research from table-top sales, to a ‘dance-a-thon’ and a donkey derby.
‘The first thing is - let yourself feel the emotions. It is a huge thing. If you try and be brave and bottle it up it’s not going to help.’
‘If you have any friends or family members who really want to be on board from the start, getting as much help as you can is vital. If you can face it, there are some amazing forums on social media that are so helpful.’
There was also one very important message for Ruby. ‘It is so important that a child who has diabetes knows that she (or he) is not alone and that there are thousands of other children with the same condition.’
For Ruby’s parents, the most important thing they learned was honesty. ‘If you are struggling and can’t cope, then you need to tell each other, your family and your diabetes specialist nurses because they understand and they can help.’
Looking to the future
‘Through all this I have learned that Ruby is so much braver and wiser than I’d ever imagined. Children cope amazingly with stuff and Ruby just gets on with it. She hasn’t let anything stop her. She still does all her activities -- Irish dancing and rock climbing. She just carries on.’
‘When Ruby was diagnosed, I was so worried about the life I thought she would have. But in a way I was wrong. Ruby’s life is as full now and happy as it ever was. It just takes a bit of time to adjust.’
Help and support
Has your child been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? Do you have concerns about school, diet or other day-to-to practicalities?
Useful resources for parents and children:
• Diabetes UK (the section on ‘Fun Stuff’ is great for kids)
• Reading for parents - Our experts recommend the award winning book ‘Type 1 Diabetes in Children, Adolescents and Young Adults’ (now in its 6th edition)
• Books for children - ‘Even Superheroes Get Diabetes’ and ‘Ballerina Dreams: A book for Children with Diabetes’