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Shared experience

“Type 1 never controlled his childhood or ours” – growing up with a brother with type 1

Maddie Bonser, JDRF’s Research Operations Officer, talks about growing up with a brother who has type 1.
Content last reviewed and updated: 02.01.2024

Maddie and her brother Ollie, who has type 1 diabetes

I have two older brothers – Milo is three years older than me, and Ollie is nine years older than me. My oldest brother, Ollie, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before I was born, so it’s always been a part of my family’s life.

My brothers are quite a bit older than me so, growing up there was a slight split. And with them being boys, they liked the same things. I would always try and get involved with the X-Box and stuff like that and they’d be like – go away, you’re too young!

An early diagnosis

I’ve always known what happened during Ollie’s diagnosis, even though I wasn’t around at the time. All of a sudden, he was really thirsty. He never used to wee in the night, then my mum noticed that he was getting up to go to the toilet a lot. A couple of months before that one of my uncles had seen a recent picture of Ollie and thought he had lost weight and looked quite ill.

Mum had a children’s health book and type 1 was listed in there. All of a sudden it just clicked. So they went to the doctors and he had his bloods tested. That same day they went to the hospital and he was given insulin.

The diagnosis was smoother than it could’ve been because my mum spotted the signs early on. Ollie had probably about a year and a half of honeymoon stage after his diagnosis because they had caught it when his bloods were only at 12, so he wasn’t in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) or anything like that.

Growing up with a type 1 sibling

Because of his relatively smooth diagnosis, by the time I came into the picture, he and mum had quite a good handle on his type 1. It never really controlled his childhood or ours. Between the hospital in Leicester where he was diagnosed and Addenbrooke’s, he was very well looked after.

Of course, it was not always smooth sailing. I remember one time when he had a hypo and passed out. He was 15, so I would have been six. He cracked his skull on the kitchen island. I remember the ambulance coming, all quite vaguely, but obviously it was quite a traumatic experience. You do remember big events like that. Thankfully, he got help very fast and recovered well.

Type 1 through teenage years

I was never that conscious about my parents worrying about Ollie’s type 1. I think when I was growing up, I just thought, oh, they worry about him more because he’s at that age where he’s going out with his friends.

It didn’t really click that they were worried about him because of his type 1 until I started working at JDRF. I had a bit of an epiphany where it kind of clicked that – oh, that’s why they were so worried about him as a teenager, because he was going out, he was starting to drink, he was being more independent.

I never felt that their attention on Ollie took anything away from me. As a kid you are quite in your own head, you’re not really thinking about the other aspects of your sibling’s lives. Once you grow up, you realise that everyone else had got a lot of stuff going on. I am glad that they were more concerned about him at that stage of his life because they needed to be, because it’s a difficult stage of life when you’re living with a chronic illness, it’s hard enough if you’re not.

Working at JDRF

My mum went to a JDRF talk when Ollie was younger, so now I work at JDRF it feels like it has come full circle. Working in the research department, I am excited about the current increase of research into the psychological aspects of living with type 1.

Personally, I am very appreciative of the work that we do to increase access to treatment and increasing awareness of the early signs and screening of type 1 diabetes. I know not everyone is as lucky to have the quality of care that Ollie received, or a long honeymoon stage without critical hospitalisation with DKA at diagnosis.

I am very proud to work at JDRF, as everyday they are improving the lives of those living with type 1, as well as trying to cure it. I hope by working at JDRF I can play my part in finding a cure because, however well Ollie manages it, I would love one day to take the burden away from him.

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