Tom and Annette Nyland have two sons and three daughters and live in Tipperary. All their daughters, Edel (19), Ciara (16) and Áine (almost 13), have type 1 diabetes. They also have two sons, Joseph (20) and Peter (18), but neither of them has the condition.
Annette, Tom and their family have adapted well to the demands of diabe¬tes, but she recently spoke to a woman whose four-year-old child had just been diagnosed and who couldn’t stop crying.
“I said: ‘Look cry for the first few years and don’t mind anyone. If you want to cry, cry.’ You do feel ‘why me’ but it isn’t really an illness, it’s really only a condi¬tion. You have to mind yourself, that is all. When they were younger, it was dreadful, the worry. Constantly wonder¬ing if they were alright. But they never had any bad hypos. They have always been fine, thank god,” said Annette.
“I did find, when Áine was diagnosed [her third child to be diagnosed with diabetes], that if anyone said anything to me I would cry. Eventually you realise that crying is not going to change any¬thing,” said Annette.
You might think that when your second or subsequent child is diagnosed
with diabetes that you will already know everything you need to know, but it doesn’t work quite like that.
“Every child is different. I find that what suits one, won’t suit the other. Different foods, even the weather, affects each one differently. But diabe¬tes hasn’t stopped them doing anything. When they are gone to a match or away for the weekend you do worry more about the girls than the boys. Because the boys don’t have diabetes, you don’t have to worry, have they food? Have they Lucozade? Have they eaten? Have they done their injections?
“Áine says that when I am in the grave, I will be sitting up saying ‘Did you do your bloods? Have you got your drinks?’,” laughs Annette.
“It is definitely not an easy road and it’s stressful at the best of times and it is a worry all the time. What can you do? You just have to let them live their lives and hope that they take care of themselves, and so far they are,” said Annette.
Children don’t like to stand out and the Nyland girls are no different. For example, when doing sport, at first they did not want to bring out a bottle of Lucozade when everyone else had water
“But I said it’s either bring it our or I’ll be standing at the side saying ‘did you bring out your Lucozade?’. They thought that was horrendously embarrassing and decided they would bring it out them¬selves. Once they did, no one minded or batted an eyelid,” said Annette.
When the girls were going for trials for a team, the family wouldn’t tell the coach they had diabetes until after the selection.
“They didn’t want to be labelled before they even put a foot on the pitch. If they didn’t make it, there was no need to tell anyone and if they did, it made no difference because the coach had already seen how well they were able to play,” said Annette.
Annette and Tom have always gone to most of the girls’ matches and during play they can’t help wondering how their blood sugar levels are.
“I would plead with them ‘if you don’t feel well, just come off and let’s sort it out and you can go back on when you feel better. Don’t stay on because you’ll only play badly if you’re low and that won’t do your image any good’. That would bring them off more quickly, in case they would never get back on,” said Annette.
Tom said that between school runs, dinners, matches, music, swimming and whatever else, the day is always full.
“Not only does the car engine not get to cool down, but the keys are usually just left in the ignition! Diabetes is a condition, not a penance. It is about life manage¬ment and eating what we all should eat as well as trying to keep active,” said Tom.
Ciara was diagnosed first
Ciara, the middle child, was the first Nyland sister diagnosed with type 1 dia¬betes. She was seven at the time. Tom’s mother has type 1 diabetes, so Annette was always conscious that it could happen. So when Ciara started looking for extra glasses of water and getting up at night to go to the toilet, Annette took her down to the GP to get tested.
“When they said she had type 1 dia¬betes I got a bit of a shock. She hadn’t been a bit sick,” said Annette. “It was good in the sense that we got her so early and she had no damage done.”
Ciara was kept in hospital for 11 days. When she came home from hospital they were getting up a lot at night to check her because they were terrified she would go into a coma.
“The first day Ciara was home I was going out to the line with clothes. I said to Áine if Ciara needs me for anything just call me and I’ll be back in. The two of them sat down to watch telly, the next thing Áine comes running out pant¬ing ‘Mammy, come quick’, I threw the clothes on the ground and went rushing in with her saying ‘what’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ Ran into the house and Ciara says ‘my favourite cartoon is back!’ I had been wondering what I would do if she was in a coma!” said Annette.
Edel was diagnosed second
“We had Ciara home and we tested everyone’s blood just to show them how Ciara did it, and up comes Edel very high,” said Annette.
It took six weeks for the firm diagnosis of type 1 with Edel because she had very few symptoms. Eventually she was diag¬nosed as being in the very early stages of type 1 diabetes. She was 9 at that stage.
“I found it hard in the beginning when people were saying ‘Oh, the second one – won’t it be great company for the first one’. I didn’t think that was any consola¬tion whatsoever. People say ‘Oh it could be worse, they’ll be fine’ – you just don’t want to hear that. You think, why me? It’s hard to listen to good words in the beginning,” said Annette.
Áine was diagnosed third
Then two years later Annette thought Áine, then aged five, had lost a bit of weight and was a bit thirsty. “So I did her bloods one evening and she was high. When Ciara got it I thought okay we can deal with this, when Edel was diagnosed six weeks later, I thought this is a bit unfair, but when Áine got it I have to say I would cry over anything. People asked ‘how do you cope?’, but you’ve no choice. You have to knuckle down and do it. It definitely took me nearly well over a year and a half to accept that the three of them had it,” said Annette.
Handling diabetes in school
“For the first year after Ciara’s diagnosis I went down to the school at 12 and 2 o’clock to inject her. I found that really, stressful. After a while we asked if the SNA, who was working with an autistic child, could help Ciara do it herself. Ciara was slightly dyslexic early on and could not distinguish between a 5 and a 2 and this would make a big difference to her bloods,” said Annette.
Annette stresses that it is very important to let people know that you or your child has diabetes so they know what to do in an emergency. Edel who is on a full hockey scholarship to Longwood University in Virginia in the US is certainly proof that this strategy works. “From when Edel was nine, she said ‘I’m not going to let this change my life’,” said Annette.
Edel insisted on injecting herself from almost immediately after her diagnosis. Sport has always been important to Edel, from U-12 when she ran rings around the local Loughmore Castleiney lads and girls to camogie and hockey in secondary school and beyond, said her father, Tom.
“Edel played with underage Tipp teams in GAA and represented her school on Schools Inter-provincial tournaments for four years. This also led to the green shirt of Ireland when she played in Valencia in the European tournament a few years ago. She is now in second year studying psychology and playing hockey at top level at Longwood University, Virginia,” said Tom.
It was one of the trainers, who trained Edel for Munster then got a job over in the US in Virginia, who invited Edel to apply for the scholarship, and she was successful. Edel gets her tuition, accom-modation, and sporting clothes and equipment fully paid for.
“She is really enjoying it over there. She came home at Christmas for a month and she will be home from early May to August when the college year begins. It is fairly intense – when they pay these big scholarships they expect to get their pound’s worth. She is doing really well. She was awarded ‘Female athlete of the year’ for her college last year,” said Annette.
Medical care in US
Edel takes over her medicines from Ireland for her time in the US. When she comes home she goes to Dublin for her checkups. She did have some problems adjusting her dosages when she went first – between jet lag, change in tem¬perature and change in diet. When she arrives in the US or Ireland she checks her blood every hour until it stabilises.
Carrying on sporting tradition
Meanwhile, Ciara is on the Tipperary under-16 panel for the county in camo¬gie. She is also excellent swimmer.
Áine recently did a bit of damage to her knee in a football match. And will be out for 6-8 weeks to let it heal. Áine plays football and camogie and is also a good swimmer. Since Áine was nine years old she has wanted to be a zoolo¬gist and to deal with the red pandas.
“Áine was not kept in hospital long when she was diagnosed, because they said ‘you have two already, you know as much as we do’.“ said Annette. Áine has thyroid problems as a complication of her diabetes and has been on thyroid tablets for the past two or three years.