Published Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Parents marked World Diabetes Day at Stormont. (© UTV)
There are around 1,038 children under the age of 17 living with Type 1 diabetes in Northern Ireland - but in a quarter of cases the vital symptoms are not being spotted.
Diabetes UK NI and 40 parents whose children have diabetes were at Stormont on Wednesday to launch a new campaign aimed at raising awareness by telling their stories.
Kathryn Cooney from Lisburn admits she had no knowledge of diabetes before her daughter Sarah was diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of nine.
"In the week leading up to Sarah's diagnosis she was drinking loads of water - glass after glass - and she was going to the toilet a lot; even getting up in the middle of the night," Ms Cooney explained.
"She was exhausted and generally not in good form, but I put this down to her just being back at school after the busy Christmas holidays."
As I didn't think it was serious, I didn't want to bother the out of hours doctor- something I have regretted ever since.
Sarah's condition worsened over the period of a weekend but it was Monday morning before she saw a doctor.
A blood test showed her glucose level was very high and she was sent to A&E.
Ms Cooney continued: "The whole way there Sarah was drifting in and out of a sleepy coma - I thought she was going to die in the back of my car.
"The next few hours were a bit of a blur as the medical team tried to get Sarah stabilised. She was in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) but eventually, after an anxious wait; she was finally transferred to the ward. She was still so weak and weighed just four stone.
"Stupidly I thought the doctors were going to give us a tablet to make her better and send us home - I knew nothing about diabetes or the impact it would have on our lives.
"Had I known the signs and symptoms of diabetes, it may have alerted me a lot earlier and perhaps Sarah wouldn't have been so ill when she was diagnosed."
Iain Foster of Diabetes UK NI said diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when there is a severe lack of insulin in the body and, if undetected, can result in serious illness, coma and even death.
Common symptoms in children and young people are going to the toilet a lot, bedwetting in a previously dry child or heavier nappies in babies, being very thirsty and not being able to quench that thirst, feeling very tired and losing weight or looking thinner than usual.
"It's a scary fact that too many of our children are ending up seriously ill in hospital as a result of missed symptoms or mis-diagnosis," Mr Foster said.
"As well as creating awareness among parents and indeed all those who come into contact with children, we will work with healthcare professionals to ensure that they too are more alert to the symptoms and that the right tests are carried out when a child presents them."
Speaking at the Stormont event, SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey called for an effective strategy in Northern Ireland to deal with the "epidemic" of diabetes.
He said: "Today has been designated as World Diabetes Day and across the world there are events being organised to raise diabetes awareness calling for urgent action to tackle the diabetes epidemic.
"I have experienced the life changes of a diabetes diagnosis myself as have indeed other members of the Assembly or close family.
"Awareness of diabetes, its symptoms, and its consequences can too often come after the event of diagnosis. I know that Type 1 brings no very early warnings, but warnings there are and a campaign which can reach GPs, practice nurses, schools and importantly parents should be welcome and supported.
"We must learn to put the person living with diabetes as the focus of our care and attention with a little less on the hurdles that can be put in the way of common sense and quality care."