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Shared experience

Community, challenges and technology – Reece Parkinson on life with type 1

Broadcaster and communications specialist Reece Parkinson was diagnosed with type 1 when he was 26. Since then, he’s used his platform to inspire others.
Content last reviewed and updated: 18.03.2024

 

Reece Parkinson wearing a running jacket and out in the countryside

I got diagnosed in October 2020 and I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I just went to the toilet about 16 times a night for about two weeks. Then my eyes went blurry. That was scary.

I finally went to see the doctor and they did a urine test. That afternoon the doctor called me and said, ‘you need to go to hospital right now’.

I was on BBC Radio 1 Xtra at the time and I had a live show to do so I said, ‘I’ll to go to hospital after I’ve done my show. After I’ve played Stormzy.’ I lasted the first two hours, then I felt like I was going to faint. So, I left and went to the hospital.

My ketone levels were about 7.8 mmol/L, which is very high. In hospital, I was just a bit lost. I thought, I don’t really understand what I’ve got here. What are you diagnosing me with? And then I realised, I’ve got type 1 diabetes. Right.

The power of community and technology

Because of covid, I had no visitors when I was in hospital. I was on Instagram at the time, and I did that classic ‘give me some sympathy hospital bed’ Instagram picture that everyone does. Then I had loads of people and places like JDRF messaging me. I had paragraphs and paragraphs to read from my hospital bed. That’s when I realised, wow, this community is powerful.

I thought to myself, OK, what are the options here? I go down one route and end up having complications that seriously impact my health, or I manage my levels as well as I can and have the opportunity to maybe help someone else, even if it’s just one person. I chose to go that way.

I’ve been on Freestyle Libre since I was diagnosed. It was kind of a no-brainer in terms of choosing between finger prick tests and a sensor. I knew there was no version of me doing finger pricking throughout the day, like when I’m on a train or the tube. When I’m DJing I can just check my phone to see my levels, there’s no way I could do a finger prick test in between songs.

My answer to ‘why me?’

I was in the middle of filming a BBC programme about me running an Ultramarathon when I was diagnosed. It was quite a straight-forward story, but when I got diagnosed, it took things to a new level.

I started running again about three weeks after my diagnosis, because I needed to know if I could do it again. Having the Libre gave me the confidence to do that.

The documentary really blessed us with an opportunity raise a lot of awareness about type 1, link in with the community and give the documentary meaning. I thought, I’ve clearly been given this for a reason. It helped me a lot because it was my answer to ‘why me?’.

I ran 50 miles in 14 and a half hours. It was crazy. It was the best experience of my life and also the worst experience of my life!

But there was no way of me not finishing the Ultramarathon. I thought, if a kid with type 1 watches this and right at the end it says ‘Unfortunately Reece couldn’t complete the run because, you know, he was super tired,’ that just can’t happen.

Reece Parkinson taking a break from running across grassland. He has his hands on his hips and his eyes closed.

 

I instantly knew type 1 would be cured

I feel lucky because I’ve got type 1 when technology is at its highest. I don’t think of type 1 and think ‘prick a finger’. I think of type 1 and think ‘mobile phone and arm’.

At the same time, we still need to support everyone that’s going through type 1. Organisations like JDRF are so important because having people to speak to is key, especially if you just got diagnosed and you need the right information. There’s nothing more powerful than finding someone you can relate to, someone who knows what I mean when I say ‘I’m low’.

When I got diagnosed, I knew instantly that this condition was going to be cured. What will get us there is funding people to do research in small labs and teams of scientists, testing and developing new ideas. Maybe the idea will fail, but we’ll learn from it, and we might just hit that winner.

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