November is Diabetes Awareness Month in Canada and one Taber, Alta., family is using a very personal diagnosis to help educate others about the disease.
“He couldn’t answer questions with more than one-word answers, and to follow commands like putting his chin down, he just wasn’t able to do that,” said Erica Hughes.
“So, we got really concerned really quickly and of course with the laboured breathing, our minds immediately went to COVID-19 as we brought him into the hospital. Definitely, COVID was a concern at the time,” she added.
It turned out it wasn’t COVID-19. Hughes’ six-year-old son, Grant, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two months ago.
The family is doing their best to manage as Grant will be insulin-dependent for the rest of his life.
“Especially because we’re new to this, there’s certainly days where it’s just overwhelming at times, trying to consider what he’s eaten, was it a really good quality meal,” Hughes said.
Hughes goes on to say while sending her son to school has become more stressful, the school has been very good about checking his blood glucose level several times a day. She adds Grant has also become comfortable with approaching his teachers whenever he feels he needs to be checked.
Hughes says she’s sharing her son’s diagnosis because she wants others to be aware of the symptoms and early warning signs, such as fatigue, weakness, blurred vision, increased thirst, irritability and mood swings.
Grant normally has his glucose level checked four to 10 times a day and must take his insulin twice daily. He is also taking two different types of insulin.
Hughes says she’s glad her husband has an excellent drug plan, which covers all of Grant’s prescription medication and devices, which of course, is something not everyone has access to.
Lacey Tomlinson has had Type 1 diabetes for two years now and she was diagnosed at age 27.
Tomlinson says the only big complaint she is that all the supplies and technology she needs to monitor her blood glucose level on a daily basis are very expensive. For those who don’t have adequate insurance, getting the supplies they depend on in order to live can then become deeply worrying, she says.
Tomlinson says she’s been on two insulin pumps and that it’s been a rough ride sometimes.
“It’s really hard to deal with life or even like yourself when you’re constantly monitoring what you’re eating and how much insulin you have to take and your mental health,” she said.
“It’s important to have supportive family and loved ones around you,” Tomlinson added.
Alberta Health says diabetes is a growing concern around the world and also in the province, with 350,000 Albertans currently affected. That number is only expected to rise.
“The population is also increasing and the population is aging as well,” said Richard Larouche, assistant professor of public health with the University of Lethbridge.
“So, aging is one of the key risk factors for Type 2 diabetes,” he added.
Larouche says a rise in obesity and unhealthy lifestyles such as not eating healthy and exercising enough are also leading to higher cases of diabetes.
When it comes to COVID-19 impacts on those who have diabetes, Larouche says literature shows there is an increase in the severity of symptoms diabetic people experience.
While diabetes is believed to be a risk factor for more serious COVID-19 outcomes, findings published in medical journal Diabetologia found that those with diabetic complications were more likely to die from the disease than those without additional health issues.
“Special attention should be paid to elderly people with long-standing diabetes and advanced diabetic complications, who are at increased risk of fatal COVID-19,” researchers wrote, suggesting that it is important to limit risk exposure to the virus.
Other research out of the U.K. has found that both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are “independently associated with a significant increased risk of in-hospital death with COVID-19.”
Health Canada says there is an increased risk of more severe COVID-19 outcomes for people over age 65, and those with compromised immune systems and/or underlying medical conditions.
However, there is hope for those diagnosed as Dr. James Shapiro and his research team at the University of Alberta has recently been able to reverse diabetes in mice by transplanting cells that produce insulin.
Dr. Shapiro’s research team says as a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first successful injection of insulin in 1922, their goal is to raise $22 million by 2022, so that Canadian researchers can take the cure from laboratories and gift it to people with diabetes all around the world.
Although human transplants are a few years away, the research is promising news to families like the Hughes.
“A cure in the form Dr. Shapiro has in Edmonton is just thrilling because it’ll allow him to be more like a regular kid again,” Hughes said.
– With files from Laura Hensley