‘It’s scary but you get used to it’

Abby Davidson. (2211Sl50) Photo: Stephen Latimer
Abby Davidson. (2211Sl50) Photo: Stephen Latimer

The diagnosis of a chronic health condition which will require lifelong treatment is a lot to take in at any age - but it must be particularly difficult when you are just a child.

For ten year old Abby Davidson that life changing diagnosis came just as she was entering her primary seven year and starting to prepare for her transfer test. As she has reached those challenging pre-teen years she also just wanted to fit in - but suddenly she found herself in hospital facing a lifetime of blood tests and injections to control her Diabetes.

Abby, from the Waterside, is just one of 1038 children with Type One diabetes in Northern Ireland.

Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Abby explained there is nothing she could have done to prevent her illness.

“With Type 1, you don’t do anything to get it. It’s not because you ate too many sweets or too much sugar,” Abby explained. “It’s just that your pancreas stops working.”

Abby admits she was lucky - her diabetes was detected before she became seriously ill. “I noticed I had been really thirsty. I could have drank 2 litres of water and I still wouldn’t have been satisfied. Then I was out with my mammy one day and we were talking and she noticed the smell of ketones - which smells like nail polish remover - on my breath so she made me an appointment at the doctors.”

Abby’s mum had also noticed that Abby had been using the bathroom more and had lost quite a bit of weight in a short period of time.

Upon examination with her GP, Abby’s blood sugars were found to be at 23.4 a figure which is staggeringly high. A non diabetic would expect their sugars to be between 4 and 8.

Abby was immediately admitted to hospital where doctors expressed their shock that she still looked remarkably well. One in four children with diabetes will become seriously ill with diabetic ketoacidosis before diagnosis. However she knew she had a long road ahead of her.

“I spent a week in hospital,” Abby said. During which time she had to learn how to monitor her blood sugars, how to inject herself with insulin and had to take advice on the restrictive diabetic diet. Abby’s entire family had to become involved in the education process - learning how to support Abby and how best to monitor her health and diet to keep her well.

Abby has a strict routine now every day. She has to test her blood sugars through a pin prick test a minimum of six times a day. She has to inject insulin twice daily. Her diet is monitored closely - each meal broken down into a carbohydrate allowance.

While Abby admits she sometimes gets annoyed that she can’t always do everything she wants and has to carefully work out when she can have treats, she said she is slowly getting used to her new diet. She has to bring a bag with her everywhere she goes so that she can be treated if her bloods go too low.

“I felt really overwhelmed at first,” she said. “But it does get easier. The diabetic nurses Daphne Patterson and Jo McMichaels have been brilliant - they are always there if we need to talk to them. I can even ring them myself.

“My family have been really helpful too - and my best friend Rachel who stays with me in school and makes sure my blood sugars are fine.”

To any child facing a diabetes diagnosis, Abby said: “I know it is scary, but you will get used to it. The hospital take really good care of you.”