Living with diabetes

JEAN Andrews' parents were staggered when they discovered that their only child had diabetes at the age of six.At the time, 50 years ago, children diagnosed with the illness, were not expected to reachadulthood.

JEAN Andrews' parents were staggered when they discovered that their only child had diabetes at the age of six.

At the time, 50 years ago, children diagnosed with the illness, were not expected to reach adulthood.

But little Jean was determined not to let the condition limit her life. She survived, went on to marry, and to have her own child.

Now 57, this Ipswich woman recalled how she was admitted into hospital for six months, then went back to school only to find the teachers didn't know how to cope.

"I was the only child in infants and secondary schools who had it, and the teachers had to be taught what to do in case I had a 'hypo' (hyperglycemic/low blood sugar attack),'' she recalled. "Insulin hadn't been around long and nobody in my family had diabetes. My father never thought I'd live to adulthood.

"But my parents did everything they could to make my life as normal as possible.

Most Read

"Everyone had Christmas and birthday parties in those days, and when I was invited the mums would be worried about not being able to cope. So mum would provide them with the right amount of bread to keep my blood sugar at the right level, and she'd ask what colour jelly they would be having, and make me my own sugar-free one if necessary."

Sadly, Jean's father never lived to see her triumph and died when she was 12, and her mother passed away before Jean was awarded a 50-year celebratory medal by the charity, Diabetes UK.

Her father gave her a tortoise called Timmy when she was diagnosed, and he is still going strong in the garden of her Bodiam Road home today.

But the medical advances have raced on at more than a tortoise's pace during his lifetime.

"My mum used to have to test my urine in a tube over the cooker's gas flame, and then there were dipstick tests but they only showed what your blood sugar was a few hours before, which wasn't much help. Now I can do a fingerprick test."

She also watches her diet, and when she gets symptoms such as confusion, perspiration and a short temper, she drinks Lucozade and barely diluted squash to ward off an attack.

Jean's husband Peter has calculated she has also had 400,000 injections, which she administers herself four times a day.

Jean said: "The needles used to be old-fashioned glass ones which you had to boil to sterilise. Then came disposable needles, and now I have a small pen. It's so easy and convenient that I have even done it in the town centre and nobody noticed. I can also buy glucose tablets."

But despite the fact that diabetes is easier to cope with these days, it has still affected her health over the years. The condition can lead to complications such as heart disease, a stroke, kidney disease, blindness and nerve damage leading to amputation.

Jean's eyesight is deteriorating so she can only see vague shapes.

She will never know whether it caused her son, Neil, now 36, to be born brain-damaged, after his twin was lost in the womb.

Or if it caused a heart attack, which meant she had to have a quadruple bypass operation just over a year ago.

Jean said: "There are theories that these are linked to diabetes, but many more babies are born healthy to diabetic mothers now, thanks to better monitoring of pregnant mothers' blood sugar."

She paid tribute to her GPs, and Dr John Day at Ipswich Hospital's diabetes centre – recently featured in the Star – who has overseen her condition since 1966.

Jean said it had not stopped her leading a full life, with help from her husband and friends. She enjoys walking and swimming, and just has to top up her insulin levels before she goes.

She added: "I've always been open about my diabetes, and I've never had a problem getting employment. I don't consider it an illness. It's a condition."



About 1.4 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes – that's three in every 100.

This number is set to double by 2010.

Another million are estimated to have the condition but don't know it.

There are two types of diabetes.

Type one develops when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed, and generally affects younger people.

Type two usually appears in middle-aged or elderly people, when the body no longer responds normally to its own insulin. Over three-quarters of people with diabetes have Type two diabetes.