LOOKING at the smiling faces of brother and sister Max and Olivia Elvy – are you able to tell which of them is suffering from a chronic life-threatening condition?
They share the same happy home, but their daily routines could not be more different.
That is because four years ago seven-year-old Max was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Now wherever he goes one of the first things he takes with him is his insulin.
The daily injections he has to give himself have become as much a part of his routine as brushing his teeth.
For his parents, Victoria and Nick, living with diabetes is a harsh reality. The slightest change in Max’s blood sugar levels could cause him to suffer a “hypo”.
Victoria says: “Our lives were literally turned upside down.
“It was a very trying time, but we were very lucky. We have since met people whose children were a lot worse when they were diagnosed and that is very scary.
“These days for us it is just making sure whenever we leave the house or want to go away we’re armed with the medication, glucose and hypo kits.”
Victoria and Nick consider themselves lucky, as for the most part they have got Max’s diabetes under control, but his condition is not one which will get better or can be cured.
“No one knows why it happens, it isn’t hereditary, and there is no cure for diabetes like there are for other conditions,” said Victoria.
“It is life threatening and quite simply for Max it is the injections of insulin that keep him alive.”
The couple say it is important “to own your diabetes”. Slip ups are all too easy to be made if sufferers do not keep on top of their blood sugar levels, and it is a practice St Michael’s on Wyre Primary School pupil Max even at his tender age has become accustomed to.
For Victoria it has also become something of a mission to raise awareness and the profile of the condition, as secretary of local group Diabetes UK Fylde Coast Children’s Support Group.
“There is a bit of a stigma attached to diabetes with misconceptions about it being attached to lifestyle, but it can happen to anyone,” she explains.
“It is a horrible thought to think of your child having to test their blood and injecting. It hurts Max and it was difficult for him to take on, but it is his life support.”
According to Diabetes UK, type 1 diabetes affects around 350,000 people in the UK, including over 25,000 children.
The condition develops when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin.
As a result, the body is unable to produce insulin and this leads to increased blood glucose levels, which in turn can cause serious damage to all organ systems in the body.
Children and adults require multiple daily insulin injections or pump infusions and many finger prick blood tests each day.
However, treatment with insulin brings with it the risk of hypoglycaemia, one of the most feared short-term complications of type 1 diabetes for children and their parents.
A serious condition, the charity says it can also lead to heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputations as a result of circulatory problems.
There are two types of diabetes. In type 2, which is usually less serious, the pancreas still produces insulin, but not enough as the tissues become increasingly resistant to it. It is this type of diabetes which is often linked to lifestyle factors, such as being overweight and not taking enough exercise.
“We knew something wasn’t right with Max. He had lost weight, was constantly thirsty and going to the toilet. Our GP was really good, he could tell we were concerned so sent us for further tests, which confirmed the diabetes,” said Victoria.
Max was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital and kept in a few days while the couple came to terms with what the diagnosis would mean.
On being released home at Gillow Park, Little Eccleston, they soon realised the challenges ahead.
“Even armed with the instructions and kit from the hospital we realised just how little we knew about the condition and it was overwhelming at first.”
Diabetes UK Fylde Coast Children’s Support Group is now in its fourth year. It was set-up by a small group of parents, who all have experience of type 1 diabetes.
Serving as a vital support network for families living with the condition, the group now welcomes around 25 families from all over Wyre and Fylde.
Activities include everything from days outs, fundraisers, golf days and, most recently, a conference event.
Victoria explains: “Trying to get people to understand there is no cure for diabetes is a very difficult thing – this is something sufferers have to live with their whole life.
“The group is a way of reaching out to parents to say you’re not on your own.
“We’ve met so many lovely friends who we would never have met if it wasn’t for our circumstances.
“The diabetes awareness day was very successful. We had some really inspirational speakers, which was great for the parents and the children.
“To hear the achievements and challenges people have overcome was incredible. It just showed that with a sensible approach there is no reason why any child or sufferer cannot be anything they want to be.”
For Max the group has enabled him to meet a wider circle of friends, who appreciate the difficulties he faces within his day to day routine
Max says: “I don’t like doing my injections because they sting.
“I am happy because I do different activities and made new friends when I was diagnosed.
“I like going to the group and doing different activities indoor and outdoor.
“The best things that have happened are the Halloween party, the conference and ice skating.”
l The support group is always looking for, and welcomes, new members. For information visit www.fylde-coast-childrens.diabetesukgroup.org/home/home.asp or call Victoria 01995 672282