Around 25 children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes every month in Ireland. In 2020, over 40% of new hospital admissions with diabetes had diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially life-threatening complication of the condition.
Ciara’s son, Lucas, ended up seriously ill in hospital with DKA in 2019 at the age of just three. She had noticed that he was thirsty “all the time” and had started wetting the bed. However, she was unaware that these were signs of Type 1 diabetes.
“He had always been a big drinker, but it got to the stage that he was thirsty all the time and he couldn’t get enough. Even when he was brushing his teeth, he would try to suck the water off the toothbrush,” she recalls.
Ciara brought him to her GP one Friday after he started complaining about a sore mouth and throat. He was found to have thrush and was prescribed medication for that. However, that weekend, things deteriorated.
However, things deteriorated one weekend.
“On the Saturday, he was very lethargic and then on the Sunday, things took a turn for the worse. He wasn’t eating and he wasn’t really drinking. Then he started vomiting and his breathing seemed laboured. He was awake but seemed spaced out.
“We live in Dublin so brought him to Tallaght University Hospital where he ended up in a high dependency unit because he was in full DKA,” Ciara explains.
With DKA, as the body starts to run out of insulin, harmful substances called ketones start to build up. If the condition is not detected and treated quickly, it is life-threatening.
Healthy ketone levels are considered lower than 0.6mmol/L. Lucas’s levels were at 6.6mmol/L.
“On a Monday morning, we met with the diabetes team and one of the nurses explained that Lucas was lucky to be alive. That’s when it hit us how sick he really was and how close we had been to actually losing him,” she notes.
Ciara did not know anything about diabetes, but she says the diabetes nurse took a lot of time to explain that what had happened to Lucas was not anyone’s fault. There was nothing she could have done to stop Lucas from developing the condition.
Lucas slept for 24 hours straight and he remained in hospital until the following Thursday.
“Those 24 hours were very scary, waiting for him to wake up. I don’t want to experience DKA again, but I can test for it now and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Ciara points out.
Over those next few days in the hospital, Ciara was taught how to care for Lucas’s diabetes.
“We were taught how to finger prick and how to inject. We learned about low bloods, high bloods when to check for ketones, how to know how much insulin to give, carb counting. It was an awful lot to learn. There was so much information and we even got homework!
“But the nurses were amazing. They let you do it at your own pace and they would come back to things if you didn’t understand. They did injections for the first two days and then I did it and they would make sure I was doing it right,” she explains.
Lucas hated the injections, and he would get very upset when given them.
“When we went home, he would hide under the table when it was time to inject and not want to come out. You feel terrible because you know it’s hurting him in that moment, but you have to do it. The first few weeks were very rough.
Lucas now uses the Dexcom G6 CGM and a pump, which Ciara describes as a “game changer”.
“The Dexcom updates every five minutes onto my phone so even when he is in school, I can see how his blood glucose levels are doing. We still might finger prick the odd time, for example, if the Dexcom says he is low, I’ll finger prick to confirm.
“And Lucas will tell you he loves his pump because there are no injections,” she says.
Having been so seriously ill with DKA and learning to live with Type 1 diabetes, Lucas is now doing great and is due to start primary school in September.
“He doesn’t really understand diabetes completely. He knows he has it and he knows he has a pump and there is insulin in it. If the Dexcom alarm goes off, he’ll say ‘My blood sugars are low’. But, he misses out on nothing. He is so active and he loves running around and going on his scooter and bike,” she notes.
Ciara encourages everybody to be aware of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes and if you are concerned about your child, to bring them to the GP and ask for a finger prick or urine test.
“If you feel in your gut something is wrong, get it checked. If it is diabetes, it will take a while to get used to. I’m over a year into it now and they are still good.”