Teaming up to Manage Diabetes

The 26th is a day that Michelle Sands will never forget. Not only is it the day her son JJ was born, it’s also the day he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease.

There was no sign anything was wrong with the happy two-year-old except for an insatiable thirst which seemed to develop overnight.

It was something both Michelle and his PORSE Educator Ginny Wigzell immediately picked up on.

“He went from a boy that you almost had to force a drink into, to wanting water all the time,” says Michelle.

“Whenever he saw a cup his eyes would bulge, and he’d hold out his hands.”Diabetes WEB2

After a week with no change, Michelle took JJ to the doctor for a check up and a phone call from the GP a few days later sent chills through her body.

“Coeliac was always on my radar, because I have the disease, but I never considered diabetes, especially not this young,” Michelle says.

“When the doctor said there were high levels of glucose in his blood I knew it was bad. My sister is a type 1 diabetic so it’s not foreign to me.”

Michelle was told to pack a bag, pick up her son and head straight to Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

For the next week Michelle learnt everything there was to know about the condition – signs of when his blood sugar was too low or too high; how to inject insulin twice a day and prick a finger to test his blood glucose levels.

Ginny took time off to be by Michelle’s side and soak up vital information that would help her to adapt to JJ’s new routine while he was in her care.

“It’s just so much to take in and when Michelle leaves for work in the morning she needs to have full trust JJ’s in safe hands,” says Ginny.

At a time of immense change for Michelle, in-home childcare provided a much-needed stable and safe environment.

“I can’t imagine how JJ would cope in a centre with lots of children - I wouldn’t trust he was getting the right kind of care he needs,” says Michelle.

“The one-on-one care he has at home with Ginny is vital. Financially, I need to work so Ginny is the next best thing to me being at home with him.”

Ginny knows how to control the diabetes with food and drink throughout the day and has turned JJ’s glucose levels test into a game.

One of the challenges of managing toddler diabetes is fussy eating, but Ginny found ways to work around it.

“We call checking his blood glucose levels ‘checking his numbers’ and we call the insulin his ‘medicine’.

“If the numbers go too low, he knows he needs to have some juice. You can’t just explain this to a two-year-old, so you have to break it down. I have been impressed with how well he’s coped with everything,” says Ginny.

Diabetes has turned Michelle and JJ’s lives upside down, with trips to the supermarket, meal times and simple outings now filled with challenges.

“It changes everything, I can’t even walk to the dairy without taking food and juice, in case he has a low,” says Michelle.

“With coeliacs you have to read the back of every packet – and gluten-free food is expensive.”

Even when she puts her son to bed at night, there is no reprieve from the constant concern.

“I test him before he goes to bed to see where his sugar levels are at and I usually test him again through the night just to make sure he doesn’t go low.

“It’s hard when you both desperately want to sleep - but we have been assured he will stabilise.”

Ginny is always there to lend a hand or a supportive ear 24/7, which has been a huge relief for Michelle.

“Michelle is part of our family and we are close friends, so that doesn’t stop when she walks out the door,” says Ginny.

As an educator with 14 years experience, Ginny has worked with children's allergies, physical disabilities, behaviour management issues and autism.

JJ started with Ginny when he was four months old so she can tell when he isn’t ‘himself’.

“When his blood sugar is low he’s happy and co-operative and when it’s high he’s grumpy – he can’t tell you he’s not feeling well so you have to know the signs and Ginny also knows the cues,” says Michelle.

“I feel very lucky to have an educator like Ginny, who can see those triggers and knows exactly what to do.”