Stories & experiences

During National Diabetes Week July 12-18, we are asking people to share your stories about diabetes. You can post on our Facebook page or email admin@diabetesaustralia.com.au.

Below are a couple of stories that we have already collected:

Jack Fitzpatrick

AFL player, living with type 1 diabetes

Jack Fitzpatrick is living proof that you can achieve anything you want when living with diabetes. The 24-year old forward/ruckman for the Melbourne Football Club was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in June 2012, two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

The two metre tall man dubbed ‘The Fitz’ made his AFL debut in 2011. He believes that living with type 1 diabetes is an “interesting challenge” but that the right attitude and, in his case, playing footy help to lead a normal life.

"It gives you something to look forward to and you don't wallow in self-pity,” says the Demons player. He checks his blood glucose levels during every game at quarter time and half time, making sure he doesn’t develop hypoglycaemia (‘hypo’, caused by low blood glucose levels). If left untreated, hypoglycaemia can lead to serious medical problems including loss of consciousness, convulsions or seizures requiring emergency treatment.

He often involves his trainers in his diabetes management and jokes that they help keeping him alive. Since changing to a low carb/high fat diet and after a period of adaption, he was able to reduce his insulin intake. He now only injects long-acting insulin at night, instead of having needles at every meal. This has given him greater flexibility in his diabetes management whilst being able to train fully at high intensity, without losing strength.

Jack is well aware of being a role-model for young people living with diabetes. “I really enjoy being able to tell them about my story and that with careful management, they will be able to live a completely normal life,” says Jack.

Similar to how professional athletes with diabetes, like Jack, work with a team of coaches, dieticians and exercise experts to achieve certain results, we encourage all people with diabetes to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian in conjunction with their diabetes team for individualised advice. The needs of each individual with diabetes are different. Read our position statement 'one diet does not fit all'.

Vasantha Ragunathan

Health coach, living with type 2 diabetes

Vasantha Ragunathan was very upset when she learned that she has type 2 diabetes. “My sister was hospitalised with an extremely high blood glucose reading of 27,” remembers the health coach from Rosanna, “and within four years she had both her legs amputated above the knee.”

Blood glucose levels for people without diabetes generally range between 3.5–8.0mmol/L. However, when living with diabetes, maintaining those levels within the target range is not always easy. For over a decade, Vasantha has managed to stay in the target range through lifestyle changes alone which have helped her to feel fit and healthy. She says: “Don’t take any shortcuts when it comes to your health.”

Vasantha now has a healthier diet and exercises regularly; she particularly enjoys walking, lifting weights and yoga. The mother of two adult sons is determined to have a good quality of life and believes that sufficient sleep and good habits are important factors in achieving this goal.

Having high blood glucose levels over a period of time can cause damage to the small and large blood vessels and the nerves. This can lead to many health complications which Vasantha is well aware of. She is a textbook example when it comes to following up with her medical team. She has her eyes checked yearly, sees her dentist and GP every six months and a podiatrist every eight weeks. She also checks her blood glucose levels at least three times a week.

Only three months ago, she followed her GP’s recommendation and started taking diabetes medication. “I didn’t like the idea,” says Vasantha. “I needed some time to accept that my body doesn’t produce enough insulin anymore.” Since starting medication, Vasantha has felt a positive effect on her health.

Bev Friend

Management and business consultant, Life! champion

Bev Friend was not counted in the "280 a day" people developing diabetes. The management and business consultant from Torquay was on the path to getting type 2 diabetes but successfully turned this around.

At least two million Australians have pre-diabetes and are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Not everybody can do what Bev has achieved but there is strong evidence from randomised controlled trials which show that type 2 diabetes can be prevented in up to 58 per cent of people at high risk, through structured lifestyle intervention.

A keen golfer and runner, Bev had always been very health conscious, even whilst working and raising 3 children. Last year, she unfortunately went through some emotionally difficult periods. These tough times sent her into a downward spiral and Bev started to drink more regularly to help relax and ease her stress. Bev’s blood sugar levels also increased and she and her GP were concerned that she was on the path to type 2 diabetes. “One of my closest friends has type 2 diabetes as well as my ex-husband. I’d seen the impact of it and I knew where I was heading.”

After a work function, Bev was driving home and heard a Life! program radio advertisement. She immediately pulled over, wrote the number down and called 13 RISK as soon as she got home. Bev signed up for the Telephone Health Coaching service with health coach Jenny.

“It was just fantastic. Jenny knew the sort of person I was – I work in a similar field in coaching professionals – and she could really click into my head space. Jenny was just terrific and reminded me of all the simple things to do.” Bev made some simple changes. Instead of going home to a couple of glasses of wine, cheese and biscuits every night, she switched to a low fat, low sugar hot chocolate for two nights a week.

“I did that for a month. The next month I didn’t have the hot chocolate and after three months I went off alcohol all together. My liver sent me love letters! Now I’m in a very healthy state. I only drink alcohol in moderation with friends and as soon as I get home I’ll go for a swim, sauna and a spa.”

Bev’s aim was to get back to a healthy weight range, a healthy BMI and lose 10cm from her waist. She achieved that and more losing 11 kilograms and 13cm from her waist. Today Bev is feeling fabulous. “I feel my whole way of life has improved – I’m back on track.”

Ian Westman

Former bank manager, living with type 2 diabetes

Ian Westman was watching a game of footy with one of his mates when the two blokes started talking about their health. “My friend was curious if my diabetes had already gone away,” laughs Ian who of course knows that he will live with type 2 diabetes for the rest of his life. There is no cure for diabetes.

The former bank manager from Oakleigh was 38-years young when he learned of his diagnosis. Although being a young and very active person, Ian was aware of his high risk of developing type 2 diabetes as it runs in his family. “It was a bit of time-bomb,” says Ian. His mum was keen to have him tested after he lost a lot of weight and was generally exhausted. “I wasn’t looking after myself as good as I could have at that time.”

Since his diagnosis in 1994, Ian has changed his diet and is very mindful of what he is eating. “I have cut the soft drinks altogether,” says Ian who loves walking his two dogs and aims to walk 10,000 steps every day. The main treatment for type 2 diabetes is healthy eating and regular physical activity. Next to making appropriate lifestyle changes, taking oral medications or administering insulin are important options in the management of type 2 diabetes.

“I feel that many people do not understand diabetes,” says Ian. “Especially the differences between type 1 and type 2 are not generally known or, in my case, that some people with type 2 are required to administer insulin too.” Ian is one of over 236,000 Australians (23%) who need insulin to manage their type 2 diabetes. He currently has two injections every day.

Donna Fehlauer

Author of Life by the Clock – Living with Diabetes

I was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 10 years old but had undiagnosed diabetes from the age of 7 years old. Like all people with type 1 diabetes, my life is ruled by the clock – with meals, blood tests, insulin injections, and rest – all on a strict regime dictated by my diabetes. When I decided to write a book on life with diabetes, 'Life by the Clock' seemed like an obvious title!

The presentation of my Kellion medal by Dr Stocks in 2003 would have to be one of the highlights of my living with this disease since 1953. There were five other recipients, ranging in age from 53 years to 85 years. But the really interesting thing was that they were – WE were – ALL ‘characters’ of their own. Each one had his or her story to tell, and we all came from very different backgrounds and walks of life; but we all had in common, a certain steely determination; a capacity for laughing at ourselves and the ridiculous situations this rotten disease has put us in, from time to time; and a bloody-minded, bulldog tenacity. We all had that. I think it’s probably essential if you’re going to live to a fulfilled and ripe old age with diabetes!

Email: lifebytheclock@optusnet.com.au for a copy of 'Life by the Clock – Living with Diabetes' or order from Diabetes Australia Queensland.

Lyn Wiegmans

You don't have to be young to develop type 1 diabetes

I am 52 years old and 3 months ago I went into hospital to have a total knee replacement which went off without a hitch. Two days after the operation I was starting to vomit, drinking excessively and passing urine just as quickly.

I ended up in intensive care as I was hyperglycemic and nearly died, I was very lucky I was in a major hospital. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

I had the symptoms of being thirsty and frequent toilet visits before that but because I led a very busy life I didn't take notice. Now, after a life of basically no limits I have found it very hard to regiment my life, but with help I know can do it.

Alan Coleman

By luck was diagnosed with heart diseae and had a triple bypass surgery.

Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and was told that I would have to follow precautions and carefully look after my health. I was a happily married retired bookmaker, with three children and five grandchildren. Other than having diabetes I felt fit, happy and healthy.

On a whim, I decided to have my heart checked. My test revealed that I may have a problem and I was sent for an angiogram, which showed five blockages – three in the main arteries to the heart and two minor blockages.

A few months after the stress test, I was recovering from a triple bypass surgery. I am grateful that my problem was picked up before I had symptoms and it became life threatening.

I hope my story will encourage people to monitor their heart health to avoid potentially serious problems, especially for people with diabetes as they often fall into a higher risk category for developing heart disease. I was not aware of this increased risk until I was diagnosed with heart disease one year ago.

Chris Wilkinson

"I watched diabetes like a hawk"

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1988 just before I turned 18. Living in NZ at the time I tried to continue on with the life I wanted to live, actively involved in sport. I managed to represent NZ in Athletics in 1994, and had moderate success on the running track at local/national level. I had to watch diabetes like a hawk, for it frequently caused my sports performance to drop if I wasn't careful.

Moving to Brisbane in 2005, I had let the ball drop on my control, and have had a couple of health scares in the last month. I just completed DAFNE, and am hoping that will enable me to get on top of the condition. If I could offer any advice it would be to always try to excel in yourself - don't let the disease limit you - being diagnosed actually made me want to pursue sport more strongly for its obvious benefits.

Lee Goldsmith

Started to get his blood glucose levels under control after a scare with diplopia (double vision)

I am a 46 year old male whom was diagnosed several years ago with type 2 but was ignorant and not in control of my BSL.

This year after a scare with diplopia (double vision) in one eye I decided to ask for help from my GP as the tablets were not getting my BSL down under 10, no matter how good a diet I was on.

Now after 3 months on insulin injections which were much easier to do than I thought, I am down to the correct readings all the time.

I have just started swimming laps daily, walking on a treadmill daily and lifting weights to improve my fitness. I have also changed my diet and I have never felt better with loads more energy and loosing that spare tyre stomach every day.

My sugars levels are getting low enough to reduce the insulin injections by 10mls this last week and my doctor is confident the way I am headed now within 6 months I should have reduced my body’s need for insulin altogether and just stay on tablets, exercise and healthy eating.

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