‘What it’s like to be me’, is a series shining a light on people living and working in Southland. This week Southland Express reporter Petrina Wright caught up with Southland girl Alice Henderson, a Southland tennis representative and recently diagnosed diabetic.
AUGUST 23, 2019, is a date Alice’s parents won’t forget in a hurry.
That was the day they received the “life-changing” news their youngest daughter Alice had developed Type 1 diabetes. She was 9 years old.
Alice’s mother Lisa said the news came as a massive shock, as there had been no prior history of diabetes in the family.
“There was a lot of fear,” she said.
“It was quite a big roller coaster there for a while.”
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which occurs when a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels.
The condition could not be prevented, and there was no cure.
Although her parents had been shocked by the diagnosis, Alice had taken it in her stride, Mrs Henderson said.
“She has always had a positive attitude.”
And that was evident when talking to Alice.
The Winton School pupil shrugged off questions about how she felt at the time of being diagnosed and talked matter-of-factly about how she managed the condition.
Even having to inject insulin into her abdomen did not appear to faze her.
Mrs Henderson said they first started to notice something was not right with Alice in June last year.
Her symptoms included a frequent need to urinate, constant thirst, blurred vision and weight loss.
By the time she was diagnosed, she had lost about 6kg.
Mrs Henderson said Alice also became very tired and emotional, which they now attributed to her high glucose levels.
When Alice was first admitted to the Children’s Ward of Southland Hospital, her blood sugar levels were about 36-37mmol/L. The normal range is between 4-8mmol/L.
She spent the next five days in hospital learning how to manage the condition.
Once back home, it was a case of regularly checking Alice’s blood sugar levels throughout the day and night, and ensuring she ate the right amount of carbohydrates at regular intervals.
Mrs Henderson said they were always prepared, with insulin and juice boxes on hand at all times.
Alice said the most difficult part about having diabetes was not being able to go to her friends’ houses for sleepovers, something she would not be able to do for some time.
“There is a risk that [her blood sugar levels] could drop in the night and it’s too much of an undertaking on other people,” Mrs Henderson said.
However, developing a lifelong chronic condition had not slowed down the little dynamo that is Alice.
She started playing tennis at age 8, representing Southland two years later.
She also played netball, basketball and touch rugby during the seasons, as well as fitting in hip-hop dance and gymnastics classes.
Alice was so appreciative of the care and support she received at Southland Hospital, she set about raising money to buy new toys and diabetes equipment for the Children’s Ward.
She set up a Givealittle page and she and her mother entered the Queenstown marathon in November last year. Alice ran the 3km children’s race and her mother ran a half-marathon.
Their efforts paid off, raising $1150 which Alice presented to her diabetes team at the hospital in December.
Alice said she had always wanted to be nurse when she left school.
But after the journey she had been on, she was now more specific.
“I want to be a diabetes nurse,” she said.
Six months on from when Alice was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, family life has settled into a new normal.
“It has definitely got easier over time. It has become the norm,” Mrs Henderson said.
Her advice to other parents of a child with Type 1 diabetes.
“Educate yourself and you can manage it.”