I was 25 years old when I was diagnosed with type 1. It was just two days before New Year’s Eve and my wife was due to give birth to our first baby any day. The diagnosis hit me flat in the face and completely changed my life; one by one, things I valued were taken away, from the Territorial Army to my HGV and motorbike licenses.
This was back in 1974 and type 1 care was very different then. I had to use a large glass syringe with a steel top and two thick needles, all of which had to be boiled before use. There were three different strengths of insulin to manage on your own and if you took too much it would kill you, which was a horrifying daily risk.
There was no blood testing then, just chemical urine tests you tried to fit in a couple of times a day using a big, complex kit. It was very inexact, so you never really knew what your blood sugar level was. People didn’t understand blood sugar control at that time and my consultant told me that statistically I would probably die 10 years before my time. Now I’m 67 and my current consultant says I could have a normal lifespan, thanks to good management over the years.
Over the decades, type 1 research has brought about some fantastic changes to make this possible. Plastic, disposable syringes were developed in the 80s that were quicker and much less painful to use. Insulin became faster, more efficient and much safer, which brought much greater peace of mind too.
Blood testing used to be done with a meter the size of a suitcase in the 70s. By the 80s I got my first blood glucose monitor to take home, which helped improve my type 1 management massively. It was like sprouting wings to have a meter and take the guesswork and worry out of controlling my blood sugar. These days it’s even better – I have a constant glucose monitor with a Bluetooth transmitter in my skin, which will help reduce the likelihood of developing complications dramatically.
The developments that have happened in diabetes care are incredible. Nowadays, a child who is diagnosed with type 1 can use an insulin pump and avoid daily injections altogether. There are also amazing things like replacement beta cells in the pipeline – and researchers are looking at ways to prevent diabetes developing in the first place.
Thanks to research, things have changed so much. If my grandchildren got type 1 now I would be heartbroken but the consolation would be that their lives would be much less affected than mine has been.
That’s why, to me, leaving money for type 1 research is paramount.