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Diabetes awareness week: Type 1 diabetic from Herne Bay talks about living with the condition and how a full fat can of coke can be life-saving

Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes means a life of walking a tightrope based on blood sugar, where a full-fat can of Coke and a Mars bar could be the difference between life and death.

Today marks the start of diabetes awareness week and reporter Keely Greenwood tried to find out what you can do to help those with the condition.

Type 1 diabetic Karl Royer, from Herne Bay, has lived with the condition since he was eight years old.

He said life is constantly focused on monitoring his sugar levels, as it can take just 10 minutes before he could find himself in a potentially fatal situation.

“From the minute you get the diagnosis until the day you die you are relentlessly managing it,” he said. “You could be unconscious within 10 minutes of the first sign that your levels have dropped.”

Diabetes is a long-term medical condition where the body cannot produce enough insulin.

Insulin is a chemical produced by the pancreas (that lies behind the stomach). It regulates the blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body. When someone has diabetes, their body cannot keep the blood sugar level within the normal range. Their levels can be higher or lower than normal blood sugar.

Karl's family from left to right: Wife Simone, Karl and his children Gloria and Patrick
Karl's family from left to right: Wife Simone, Karl and his children Gloria and Patrick

If a diabetic’s blood sugar levels drop too high or too low and they are not treated quickly they could end up needing hospital treatment.

Karl was diagnosed on his eighth birthday. The average age of diagnosis for Type 1 is 13 years old.

He said his parents first realised something was wrong as he was losing weight, constantly feeling tired and was always thirsty and needing the toilet.

He was eventually admitted to hospital, where he was taught how to manage his illness for a month.

Keeping the blood sugar levels within an acceptable range is a daily battle.

Now 56, Karl said: “The problem is you that with your metabolism you are putting food in but your hormones are affecting your levels.

“Even the process of waking up sets off hormones which affect your levels.

“It is important to keep it within a range. If it goes too high it damages your body and it can be fatal so there is a danger it could get too low.”

The IT consultant said there are noticable signs if his levels are dropping.

The kit Karl needs to take with him on his bike hike
The kit Karl needs to take with him on his bike hike

He said: “You start to feel drunk and can be argumentative. You can get to the point of being unconscious within just 10 minutes of seeing the first signs that something is wrong.”

The father of two says the worst thing for him was when his children were young and he was looking after them.

“At times they ended up looking after me when I was unwell. They would have to get me something sweet to eat and make sure I was ok.

“They had to be aware of my condition because if things go wrong they can go wrong quite badly. If you are responsible for them and actually they are looking after you it can make it quite hard.”

And he offered some tips if you see someone in the early stages of a diabetic emergency.

“If you can give them something sweet they should show an improvement within 15 minutes. A can of full fat coke is best or a mars bar. Something that is pure sugar.”

He said he is able to manage his diabetes fairly well but when he was a teenager he admits it was hard, especially when he started drinking.

“I would end up in hospital every couple of months because your hormones are raging and affecting your levels.

‘From the day you get the diagnosis until the day you die you are relentlessly managing it’

“It’s not the sugar in the alcohol that’s the problem. It’s more that when you drunk you are not in control and with Type 1 diabetes there is not a moment in your life that you cannot be in control.”

As well as being out of control the morning after can also cause issues. Karl said: “It’s eight hours later, when your liver starts breaking down the toxins that your levels can crash.

“You have to always go out carrying sweets with you. You can’t just go and do it. Type 1 has to be the first priority.”New analysis released last month by Diabetes UK shows the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in Kent has increased from 106,178 to 114,231 in the last year.

So what would you do if you sure one of these increasing number of people in need of help?

If you are lucky enough to be sent on a three-day First Aid at Work course you will learn how to deal with low blood sugar and diabetes

However it is not covered in the St John Ambulance one day Emergency First Aid or courses for those working in schools and the majority of the general public may not be aware of the simple way they can assist someone.

A spokesman for St John Ambulance said: “We are currently looking at the content of our schools courses with updates to follow later in the year.”

There are two types of diabetes Type 1, known as insulin dependent diabetes and Type 2, non-insulin dependent diabetes. But both can be treated in the same way in an emergency.

James McNulty-Ackroyd is a St John Ambulance paramedic
James McNulty-Ackroyd is a St John Ambulance paramedic

St John Ambulance paramedic James McNulty-Ackroyd has given tips on what to do if you find someone in a diabetic emergency.

“Try and talk to the person,” he said. “They might be aware they are having a hypo and can tell you what they need.”

However, if they are unable to communicate there are things you can do.

“They might be wearing a MedicAlert bracelet or carrying a card saying they are a diabetic and what you should do if you find them unresponsive,” James said.

There is also a very clever feature on your iPhone James says can help you find out someone’s emergency medical information, and which most people are not aware of.

“For some reason people are not told about it, but if you are a diabetic you are probably aware of it,” he said.

“If you find the person’s phone you can swipe up on the lock screen, or if it's an older iPhone, press the home button twice to bring up the prompt to enter a PIN code. Below the keyboard, on the left side of the screen, an emergency option will appear; tap it, followed by medical ID. Android phones rely on the Contacts app for emergency contacts and medical info. To view emergency contact information on an Android phone, swipe up on the lock screen and then tap emergency call.”

If you find someone unresponsive James advises you to call 999 and keep an eye on them, making sure their airways are clear. You could also put them in the recovery position.

‘There is not a moment in your life when you cannot be in control’

However, he said there is more you can do if you get to someone before they get to that more serious situation.

He said: “You might work with someone who is diabetic so it is important to be aware of the symptoms to look out for and how you can help them before they get to that stage.

“Be aware if they have skipped lunch or if they suddenly appear vacant. Ask them if they are having a hypo. They might be able to nod and you can help them.”

James says the best way to help them avoid getting into an unresponsive state is to give them a can of full fat coke. If they have their own glucose gel or glucose tablets, help them take it.

If they improve quickly (within 10 to 15 minutes), give them more of the sugary food or drink and let them rest.

If they have their blood glucose testing kit with them, help them use it to check their blood sugar level. Stay with them until they feel completely better.

James said the problem arises when you need to determine whether the person is having a hypo or a hyper emergency as the symptoms are very simliar.

In a hypo the person may feel week, be sweating and confused.They may have a rapid pulse, palpitations and be trembling or shaking. Their responses will start to deteriorate. It means their blood sugar levels are low.

‘You can’t just go and do it. You have to plan it first’

With a hyper they will also appear drowsy, their pulse will be rapid and their skin appear dry. Their breath may also smell very sweet and they might be very thirsty. This means there blood sugar is too high.

He said :”Obviously you would not know their levels and what they specifically need unless you do a pin-prick test.”

If someone is having a hyper episode they need to be taken straight to hospital and put on intravesnous drips and given insulin.

So James said the best thing you can do is call 999 and keep an eye on them. James explained the reason why a diabetic may end up having an episode.

He said: “It’s ususally down to medicine management and the way they manage their doses and maintain their levels.

“Some people struggle to maintain their balance with issues such as when to have sugary foods, how much to have, when to have it if you are exercising.

“It could also be the fact they are taking medicine for a cold and the sugar in that is too high.

To find out more about how to help someone click the link here.

Karl Royer is taking part in a charity cycle ride to raise money for Diabetes UK.
Karl Royer is taking part in a charity cycle ride to raise money for Diabetes UK.

James thinks it is very important for first aid around diabetes to be taught in schools as he said it is at primary school age when children are first diagnosed and getting their heads around their levels.

But the condition doesn’t mean you can’t live your life to the full.

Karl has been training hard for the last five years to take part in a 1,200 miles charity cycle through Europe, crossing the Alps three times before climbing to the top of a mountain at Zauchensee in Austria. He sets off today and you can donate to the cause here.

Whilst training for the mammoth hike Karl discovered the way technology has not advanced quite as far as you would think.

“When I am on my bike I can’t keep an eye on my levels or I would crash. Current smart watch technology is not as smart as you might think – I have had to develop my own smart watch application that provides a quick glance of glucose levels.

This proved a problem during a training session when a beeper alerted Karl that his levels were falling dangerously low.

“It was too late by then. I had to stop and eat food in a lay-by. When I started again I had cramp because the drop in my blood sugar had affected my oxygen which caused my muscles to cramp.”

He also says the equipment he needs to take a blood sample and check his levels is very cumbersome.

Preparing for his ride he said: “I have got to carry so much stuff with me. We need to consumer 3,800 calories during the day and will need to keep stopping to eat.

“I also need to carry my insulin, an insulin pen and a spare, chargers, batteries. I need all sorts of emergency stuff because if something goes wrong and we are in the middle of nowhere, I could be in serious trouble.

“I can’t risk not having supplies with me.”

He has also discovered blood testing kits are in need of a modernisation as they don’t work at low temperatures.

“I was hiking up a mountain in the snow once and I couldn’t test my blood sugar levels.”

The rise in Type 2 diabetes is a major contributor to the increasing numbers with the condition.

Diabetes UK say reducing the escalating figures must mean a focus on preventing type 2 diabetes,

The risk factors of type 2 diabetes include age, family history and ethnicity, as well as living with obesity. Social deprivation is also an issue. Factors such as income, education, housing, access to healthy food, as well as poorer access to healthcare.

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetes is important. They include the 4Ts of toilet (going for a wee a lot, especially at night), thirsty (being really thirsty), tired (feeling more tired than usual) and thinner (losing weight without trying). You can understand your personal risk of type 2 diabetes by using Diabetes UK’s free, online Know Your Risk tool.

A spokesman for Diabetes UK, said: “Diabetes is serious, and every diagnosis is life changing. It’s a relentless condition, and the fear of serious complications is a lifelong reality for millions of people across the UK.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right care and support, cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or put into remission.”

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