THE nation’s growing problem with diabetes has again been highlighted this week, with new figures revealing that a staggering £2.2 million is now spent every day on insulin and other related prescriptions.
Hundreds of people in East Lancashire are diagnosed with the disease each year, and many struggle to maintain the discipline required to keep blood sugar levels in check.
Those who are struggling would do well to meet Clitheroe grandma Janet Hill, who has been living with Type 1 diabetes since 1964. This week she received the Alan Nabarro Medal from Diabetes UK – reserved for those who have had the condition for 50 years.
Many diabetes patients require limb amputations, suffer kidney problems, or end up in A&E with hypoglycemia at some stage, but aside from requiring laser treatment for retinopathy about 10 years ago, Janet has stayed remarkably healthy over those five decades.
The 78-year-old, who has two children and two grandchildren, said: “I’ve been quite meticulous at counting carbohydrates when I eat, because they bring the glucose levels up, and then I work out how much insulin I need to inject to bring them back down.
“I have at least five injections each day, including one before each meal, but I’ll have an extra dose if I’m going to eat a cream tea or something like that.
“It’s just become a way of life and although I avoid pies and sugary things, I still eat pretty normally.
@I’ll have a bit of chocolate most days and fresh fruit for pudding and just make sure it’s balanced with the insulin. I’ve actually found that I don’t like sweet things so much, because I’m not used to eating them.”
Janet, of Hereford Drive, was diagnosed aged 28 after feeling seriously ill for several weeks, but said she was actually relieved when doctors discovered what was causing her to feel unwell.
She added: “I’d been really ill for quite a while and lost a lot of weight. I weighed under five stone and had been back and forth to the doctor, until one visit when he thought I might have diabetes, and I got admitted to hospital straight away.
“My blood sugar levels were about 44, which was off the scale.
“It should be down at about 10, so it could have been really serious if it had gone any longer.
“I did find it all quite difficult at first but I was just really happy that I knew what was wrong with me, because then I could manage it. And it felt amazing when I got the first shot of insulin, the raging thirst disappeared and I didn’t need the loo for hours. It felt like a real miracle.”
Janet, a former nursery nurse, soon learned to inject herself by practising on an orange, and for many years would rely on one large dose of insulin each day.
The process is now far more scientific, thanks to a blood sugar monitor given to her in 2005.
She moved to East Lancashire from Kent in 2002 and has been to regular check-ups and clinics at the Royal Blackburn, as well as Clitheroe Community Hospital ever since. She is also a member of the Ribble Valley branch of Diabetes UK.
She said: “I think the NHS has got a lot better at looking after diabetes patients since the 1960s and 70s. The dieticians at Blackburn are brilliant and we’re very well looked after.
“I’ll go to a clinic there twice a year with check-ups every couple of months at Clitheroe.
“I feel very thankful and fortunate that I’ve stayed healthy and been able to enjoy life.
“I know a lot of diabetics struggle psychologically, but I’m not a depressive person at all and I’ve found it okay.”
Gordon Dixon, chariman of the support group, said: “If you have survived on insulin for such a long time as this then it’s a tremendous achievement.
“It’s becoming more and more common due to improvements to insulin and also people are living healthier lifestyles.
“However, it’s a big achievement for anybody to reach 50 years and Janet is only the fifth person from our group to make it.
“It used to be very rare but it can only be a good thing that more people are reaching the milestone.”