NOVEMBER was Diabetes Action Month in New Zealand. The theme of this year’s event was Know the Difference, which aims to counter common misconceptions about diabetes. Southland Express reporter PETRINA WRIGHT spoke to Invercargill teenager Wilson Ludlow to find out what it was like living with Type 1 diabetes. Constantly monitoring what he eats, regularly checking his blood glucose levels and injecting himself with insulin are among the daily challenges Invercargill teenager Wilson Ludlow (15) faces, but coping with the stigma often associated with Type 1 diabetes is the most difficult part of living with the condition, he says.
“It is not contagious. You can’t catch it.
“[Having diabetes] doesn’t mean I am a different person. I am the same as you are.”
There was a big difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, he said.
“People assume I must eat too much sugar or have an unhealthy lifestyle, which is not the case at all with Type 1.”
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disorder, in which the body attacks its own insulin-producing cells. It is not related to lifestyle. Type 1 diabetics have a life-long dependency on insulin, dispensed through an injection or an insulin pump.
Type 2 diabetes is managed with medication and insulin and can be improved through exercise, weight loss and a healthy diet.
Wilson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was seven years old.
“It was a bit of a blow. I was quite upset about it. I shed tears,” he said.
“I knew the basics of diabetes [because his father had been diagnosed with the same condition six months beforehand] and I knew I would have to change a lot [in my life].”
His mother Lyndal Ludlow said it had been upsetting for everyone.
“We questioned what we had done, but the support team at the hospital made it very clear it was just the way it was and there was nothing we could have done to change it.”
Before being diagnosed, Wilson had started to drink and urinate a lot and was losing weight, she said. He had always been a good sleeper, so when he started getting up to go to the toilet during the night, that was when they knew something was wrong.
Wilson said changing what and how much he ate, testing his blood glucose levels seven or eight times a day and regularly injecting himself with insulin were the major changes he had had to make to his life following the diagnosis.
Having his bag searched in shops was another challenge he faced.
Wilson said he had to have a backpack with his medication with him all the time because his blood glucose levels could fall rapidly, but some shop assistants had not understood and insisted he leave his bag at the shop entrance.
Mrs Ludlow said in one distressing episode, a security guard had trespassed Wilson from a store, not understanding why he needed to have his bag with him at all times.
“He was absolutely mortified.”
Each diabetic’s experience was different, but for Wilson, his blood glucose levels could be affected by many factors including stress, exercise, weather and being sick with the flu.
Mrs Ludlow said when Wilson had a growth spurt, it had significantly affected his insulin use.
He was taken to hospital by ambulance four or five times in an 18-month period after becoming unconscious and suffering epileptic seizures as a result of a rapid hypoglycemic event caused by low blood sugar levels which required urgent medical attention.
“I went into a dark place I would rather not go back to,” Wilson said. “It was scary to be in one place and wake up in the hospital not knowing what has happened.”
Mrs Ludlow said Wilson’s condition had initially been managed with daily insulin injections, but last year he was put on an insulin pump, which acted like an artificial pancreas. The insulin pump had made daily management of his condition much easier and had given him more freedom in his diet and what activities he could do.
“The medical implications later in life are fairly serious, so managing things now will be of benefit later in life, something that is not so easy for a teenager to comprehend.”