Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

First person: Siobhan Reel - 'Insulin pump changed the life of my diabetic twin and I'

The 38-year-old has had Type 1 diabetes since the age of 13, which meant she had to inject insulin five times a day until getting a new insulin pump. She lives in Meigh, outside Newry, with her husband Gerard (38), a locksmith, and children Maeve (10), Clodagh (6) and Aran (3)

Close bond: Siobhan Reel (right) with her twin Sharon McKiverigan
Close bond: Siobhan Reel (right) with her twin Sharon McKiverigan
Close bond: Siobhan Reel with her three children

"I can remember as a young child always having an uncontrollable thirst and then running to the toilet. I tried everything to quench the thirst. My mum was a nurse and noticed that I was also tired and losing quite a bit of weight, especially compared to my twin sister Sharon, so she made an appointment with the doctor.

That was in 1988 – I was 13 at the time and remember crying the night before. I had to fast for a blood/glucose test that morning and two days later the doctor called to our house and told mum that I had to go to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry without delay.

There it was confirmed I had Type 1 diabetes. My blood sugar was 38% – the norm is between 4-7%. When it gets that high the danger is you can slip into a coma.

I had to stay in hospital for a week. They carried out tests and taught me how to manage my Type 1 diabetes.

I remember they gave me an orange and a syringe to practise injecting the insulin. I was frightened but thankfully I was okay with needles. Then after two days I had to inject myself with insulin. I can remember the first time I injected myself. It was awful. First I had to prick my finger to draw blood to find out my glucose levels and then inject the proper dose of insulin. I also was given a strict diet that limited what type of food I could eat.

It was a healthy high-carb diet featuring a lot of Weetabix, brown bread, Digestive biscuits, fruit, potatoes, and meat and veg.

I used to be scared to go to sleep in case I would not wake up if I had a hypo-glycemic attack in the middle of the night. and I remember going to my grandfather's 60th birthday party, and all of my 40 cousins were there, sittings around the table eating everything in front of them. I remember standing back and asking myself 'What can I eat here?' I went out of the room crying. It was the first time I realised that I could not eat the same as everybody else.

I couldn't take butter, chocolate or crisps, which was hard as a teenager. The only time I can take something sugary is when my blood sugar gets low.

Four years after me Sharon was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She was devastated, because she saw what I went through for the previous five years. But, as we are both very close, we looked after each other.

In one sense it was difficult, as teenagers, having to constantly check your bloods and take your insulin. Mum was obviously terrified of something going wrong. She still is, 25 years later.

Thankfully, seven years ago we were told we were suitable for an insulin pump – a small device you wear that helps you monitor your blood/glucose levels and administer the correct amount of insulin.

They cost over £2,000 but we get them on the NHS. Before that I had to inject myself five times a day. Now I only has to refill the pump and inject the infusion set every three days.

When I first got the pump I was concerned that I'd have this attachment on me everywhere I went, and as I am not techie-minded, I was also afraid I might not be able to use it.

But the pump has been a great benefit to me and my family, as it gives us great freedom.

I recommend anyone who has Type 1 diabetes to talk to their nurse or doctor to see if they're suitable for the pump.

It has really changed my life, and my sister's, for the better.

I am in control of my life and not under the control of my diabetes, at last.

The only other way to a normal life for someone like me would be to have a pancreatic transplant but I can do without that now."

Cases up by a third in past five years

e The number of people living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes has risen by 33% in Northern Ireland during the last five years.

The total number of adults in Northern Ireland aged 17 and over living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is 75,837. A further 1,088 children and young people under 17 are now known to have Type 1 diabetes.

e If not properly managed it can lead to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputation and kidney failure.

e The insulin pump, which is about the size of a mobile phone, is worn at all times and delivers insulin through a plastic tube inserted under the skin.

e The Department of Health has funded insulin pump therapy for suitable patients.

e Contact your health care professional or check out http:// guidance.nice.org.uk/TA151 or www.diabetes.org.uk

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