Theresa May r MARTIN SCURR says Type 1 diabetes has dominated life of his …

  • Theresa May has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 56
  • It will ignite attention of anyone who has an interest in this condition
  • Mrs May will have to inject herself with insulin, like my eldest son Ben

By
Martin Scurr

19:57 EST, 28 July 2013


|

02:20 EST, 29 July 2013

Sufferer: As a father I've seen first-hand how Type 1 diabetes has dominated the life of my eldest son, Ben, for the best part of 30 years

Sufferer: As a father I’ve seen first-hand how Type 1 diabetes has dominated the life of my eldest son, Ben, for the best part of 30 years

The news that Home Secretary Theresa May has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 56 will ignite the attention of anyone who has an interest in this condition — especially as it is so rare for someone of her age.

I have several patients with Type 1 diabetes, but as a father I’ve seen first-hand how it has dominated the life of my eldest son, Ben, for the best part of 30 years.

In my 36 years as a GP, I can’t recall a fiftysomething patient who has developed it out of the blue. Doctors occasionally see the onset of Type 1 in teenagers or young adults in their 20s, but later than that is very unusual.

I would imagine someone as organised as the Home Secretary will be able to manage her condition and go on living a relatively normal life. But as I have seen with Ben, even if you are meticulous in your management of Type 1 diabetes, you can only minimise — never completely absolve yourself — of complications.

Mrs May, who had been strongly tipped to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader, admits she often works an 18-hour day. And although long ministerial hours will still be achievable, she will have to ensure that she eats regular sit-down meals.

There can be no erratic snacking on chocolate or crisps for the diabetic.

Like Ben, Mrs May will have to inject herself with insulin. Some people use pumps which infuse a continuous flow of insulin rather than several large shots, but these are not as common as the injections — simply because they are formidably expensive and fairly new.

But no matter how careful you are, mistakes will be made, and we see this with Ben all the time. If he has too little insulin, or too much food and not enough exercise, he can’t go long before his blood sugar can go stormingly high.

The penalty for that is serious complications such as eye and kidney damage and a greatly increased rate of atheroma formation, the process of clogging up of arteries in the heart or brain with cholesterol deposits.

Too much insulin and he may pass out through too low a level of glucose in the blood, a so-called ‘hypo’ (hypoglycaemic attack).

Ben developed diabetes when he was seven, and as a child he would become very aggressive, spitting at us and lashing out before passing out unconscious if we couldn’t get a sugary drink or snack down him in time.

Although Ben manages his diabetes with great care and has led a full life — gaining a history degree from Manchester University and carving out a successful career in TV commercials — he has by no means been immune to complications. The Home Secretary should take heed.

Diabetes is the most common cause of acquired blindness in the western world, and six months ago Ben lost his driving licence because he has a retinopathy — where the retina at the back of the eye becomes damaged.

He has passed out on countless occasions, sometimes on his own on a train or in an airport where, distressingly, onlookers have mistaken him for a drunk. For that reason he wears a medical bracelet to alert people to his condition.

Coping: Like Ben, Home Secretary Theresa May (pictured last month) will have to inject herself with insulin

Coping: Like Ben, Home Secretary Theresa May (pictured last month) will have to inject herself with insulin

This will be something that Mrs May must be worried about. There’s every chance that she might keel over at the despatch box or in a meeting. For this reason, everyone around her — from her personal secretary to her driver — must be up to speed on her condition.

She will want to be independent, yet everyone must be aware of the signs and symptoms of her condition because every now and then a meal will get missed or she will take in too much insulin and she will go off beam.

A diabetic always wants to be independent but, as parents, we had to brief everyone from friends to teachers to skiing instructors about Ben’s condition in case he passed out.

Unfortunately, Ben has also suffered from kidney failure and had a transplant. Now, that kidney has also failed and he is due to go back on to dialysis.

One day in the next year or so, he hopes to have another transplant, this time of a kidney and pancreas, which should cure him of diabetes.

It’s very new technology and I know of no patients who have gone through this operation, but it’s part of the new world of transplanting that offers hope to diabetics everywhere. The tragedy is that he will have to wait for someone else to die before he can be cured.

Type 1 is most commonly called acute juvenile onset diabetes because it is a dramatic disease that suddenly appears and almost universally affects young people. Only last week, a child of only one was diagnosed at my practice.

This is in contrast to Type 2 diabetes, also known as maturity onset diabetes, which, although it is also recognised by the presence of high glucose levels in the bloodstream, is almost a different disease entirely.

We see Type 2 in middle-aged and older people, usually in the context of excess body weight, the problem being a relative rather than an absolute deficiency of the hormone insulin.

But Type 1 diabetes is a medical emergency and an incurable illness that occurs because of the sudden loss of insulin, a  protein hormone that is  produced by nests of cells that are situated in the pancreas.

Type 1 diabetes is a medical emergency
and an incurable illness that occurs because of the sudden loss of
insulin, a  protein hormone that is  produced by nests of cells that are
situated in the pancreas

Insulin is vital for the control of blood glucose levels. Glucose is the most important currency — the pound sterling — of energy in the body. It is the preferred fuel for our heart muscle, it is the only energy source that our brains can use, and insulin is the hormone that controls glucose levels, mobilising it from stores and enabling body tissues to use the glucose at the site needed.

With Type 1 diabetes, quite suddenly, insulin production ceases — usually because the cells making it are rapidly killed off by antibodies or a virus.

Glucose levels then soar and the patient becomes acutely ill within days, with weight loss, thirst, weakness and eventually a state called diabetic ketoacidosis — a derangement of the chemistry of the entire body, with over-breathing, vomiting and eventual loss of consciousness.

Before the Twenties, when insulin was discovered and could be purified (from beef or pig pancreatic tissue) and then injected as a treatment, death was the outcome.

Thankfully, treatment has come a long way since those dark days.

Ben was diagnosed six weeks after he had suffered a bout of chicken pox. Doctors believe that a virus may trigger Type 1 diabetes in someone who has a genetic susceptibility.

We had noticed he had started climbing up to the sink to drink water from the tap as he was suffering from extreme thirst. He was also getting up regularly in the night to urinate.

Colleagues: Home Secretary Theresa May is pictured with Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month. Mrs May will want to be independent, yet everyone must be aware of the signs and symptoms of her condition

Colleagues: Home Secretary Theresa May is pictured with Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month. Mrs May will want to be independent, yet everyone must be aware of the signs and symptoms of her condition

These are common symptoms of diabetes but to my shame, I didn’t spot what was happening straight away. At the time, my wife was 38 weeks pregnant with our second son, Cosmo, and I simply thought Ben was being wilful because the new baby was nearly here.

In the end, I took a urine sample which showed his sugar levels were high. So I took a blood sample and to my horror, his blood sugar reading was six times higher than it should have been.

I rang Guy’s Hospital to inform them of my boy’s symptoms and to my astonishment, they asked me to bring him in a couple of days. When I told them he would be dead by then, they admitted him straight away.

There, he was diagnosed with Type 1, and
my wife was admitted with him because she had to learn quickly how to
manage our son’s incurable illness.

Ben checks his blood glucose around four to five times a day – and it’s likely that the Home Secretary will have to do the same

His treatment involves striking a careful balance between food intake and the dose of insulin needed. Diabetics must be particularly watchful over the amount of carbohydrate and starch they consume, as glucose forms the main building bricks of much larger starch molecules.

Insulin is usually injected between two and four times daily, depending on the needs of the individual.

Ben checks his blood glucose around four to five times a day — and it’s likely that the Home Secretary will have to do  the same.

He has to prick his finger and insert a dot of blood into a portable gizmo. It means he can govern carefully what he needs to eat and also calculate the correct insulin dosage to inject into himself at that moment in time.

The Home Secretary will have to get used to this routine and fit it into her already busy schedule. How much energy she has been using a day will need to be taken into consideration. Sitting in Cabinet meetings or an office uses less fuel than dashing about to constituency meetings, going to the gym, or hill walking  on holiday.

The essence of treating a patient with diabetes is to educate them to enable them to self govern and take full responsibility for managing their own condition with rigorous self discipline and meticulous  attention to all details.

Only in this way are future complications minimised and a normal life possible — even for a future possible Prime Minister.

The comments below have not been moderated.

Perhaps Mrs May’s GP would consider offering her a DAFNE course? Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating – I have found it an extremely helpful guide in managing my “late onset” Type 1 [diagnosed as Type 2 initially just like Mrs May’s]. Diagnosed at 46, now 64, I am well, happy and still working [although part time and now in NZ] – I do think diabetes was there in the background for many years and perhaps only became a real problem following several years of overworking and long hours. Otherwise life is normal and insulin regime is a fact of life and best accepted as so.

ExPatLyn
,

Napier, New Zealand,
29/7/2013 23:10

My son was dignosed on 23/2/13 after go missed on the 21 st even though we expressed concerns he refused to test sugars but that’s another story and one that’s being investigated by the GMC as on the 23 rd he was admitted in diabetic KETO acidosis nt a nice condition and very frightening for patient and family members…..GPS need to listen to patients and parents and not stop when they make there mind up…..luckily for us we took him to hospital when we did as he would have been in a coma two hours later…..the blood test showed six times ove the limit for a child that’s a lot….his consultant says the condition was miked as my son does lots of activity so the onset was hidden until days before when his sugars were sky high…..as a paren I blame myself too but. Can’t change it he has diabetes and it could not have stopped it b getting there sooner….m son would not have been so poorly though and for a two pound blood sugar test my son could have been saved lots of pain…..

Sammy D
,

Staffordshire, United Kingdom,
29/7/2013 17:26

I have only three words for all the diabetics (type 1 or 2) out there. GOOGLE DR BERNSTEIN

kelebek
,

Turkey,
29/7/2013 16:48

WOW. you failed your child!! You are a DOCTOR and your son’s diabetes was so badly mismanaged that he has retinopathy and kidney failure? I’m 29, Type 1 since I was 10, and live in permanent fear that I will go blind etc, and had a normal teenage rebellion for a while but do not have any damage as yet. My parents didn’t pressure me, I had normal food. So how the HELL has your son become so damaged without serious failings on your behalf?! I don’t think you’re in any position to write such a stupid article. Glad you’re not my doctor, let alone my DAD!

emelsie
,

exeter,
29/7/2013 15:38

54 years and counting with Type 1, this Dr his son need to realise it is not the end of the world and get on with having a life! It hasn’t stopped me from doing anything, there are thousands, like me, that just get on with it rather than bleating about it!

Maggie
,

UK,
29/7/2013 14:46

My husband was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 41, nearly 7 years ago and two years after our daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 at the age of 6. His GP thought it couldn’t be T1 and said T2 but consultant said he was Type 1. Its a misconception that they cannot develop it older. The consultant told my husband that the oldest person he had diagnosed recently with T1 was 73!!! Unfortunately we have Type 1 on both sides as my sister has been T1 for 30 years, our daughter now for 9 years, my husband for 7 years and his nephew for 5 years. He also has a cousin with T1. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to keep both of them healthy and unfortunately my daughter also has other health issues which makes it harder but she was lucky to be given an insulin pump two years ago which has made a huge difference to her overall control. Type 1 diabetes is a game of balance every day for the rest of your life and affects all the family involved.

Cat26
,

Glasgow,
29/7/2013 14:42

It always baffles me why diabetes type 1 sufferers would even consider eating anything with sugar in or even anything such as a sugar free juice? Water is sugar free, drink that! Red arrow me as I obviously don’t understand!
– LaughingGravy, Wirral, 29/7/2013 6:51.— Why shouldn’t people with diabetes have as much choice as the rest of us? Variety is the spice of life and children especially want to have something more exciting than water. Not just that but it helps people feel more normal? Also, as far as I’m aware, diabetics need sugar in their diet they just need to be careful about how much.

Charli
,

Cardiff,
29/7/2013 14:33

Like any disease, some have a harder time than others. I sympathize with those who have lost limbs or organs and congratulate those who have not. The difference is certainly not always because one person is more diligent than another. To think so is cruel and ignorant.

SantaFeJack
,

Newport News VA USA,
29/7/2013 14:33

My sister has diabetes and copes fine!

Richard M
,

Stockholm-Expat,
29/7/2013 13:47

Most people think of diabetes Type 1 2 as one condition but they’re no’s no comparison. When my 5yr old son was diagnosed with Type 1 some years ago (no family history) – I was told diabetes is nothing these days!!! However it completely changed our family life – I had needle phobia too but had to overcome it – blood samples were worse for me. Meals, snacks, exercise, illness hypo’s had to be managed as well as looking after the other 3 children one only a few days old. The belief is that many more people carry the gene for Type 1 diabetes than have it but it needs a trigger – in our case a virus, Type 2 diabetes is relatively common in the older age group but can be managed with diet, diet and tablets and in some cases with insulin – but not to be confused with Type 1 diabetes. It’s onset is usually gradual and it’s possible with proper diet and exercise to avoid type 2 diabetes. Mrs May will have to cope with the changes to her life and it’s easier if others know

JF
,

Birmingham, United Kingdom,
29/7/2013 13:24

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