Jeanette Forbes: Scots can cope with the rise of Type 1 diabetes if they think positive

Did you know that Scotland has the third highest incidence of type 1 diabetes in the world? More than 30,000 people in Scotland live with the condition and numbers are increasing at a rate of around four per cent each year, particularly in children under the age of five.

Jeanette Forbes is the Chairperson of the JDRF Scottish Development Group
Jeanette Forbes is the Chairperson of the JDRF Scottish Development Group

All depend on multiple insulin injections or pump infusions every day just to stay alive, with a child diagnosed at five facing up to 19,000 injections and 50,000 finger prick blood tests by the time they are 18. It’s not a condition they can prevent.

So imagine having to plan for every children’s party, every football match, every sleep-over by calculating glucose levels and carbohydrate numbers in your food. Imagine, having to inject just before a PE lesson in front of a classroom of mates. Imaging having to wake up throughout the night for blood tests to avoid seriously low blood glucose levels – or “hypos”.

Type 1 diabetes is a tough condition, but those living with its realities can still achieve great things.

For that reason it is a massive help for these children, as well as adults and their loved ones – to have “type 1 role models” – people who have triumphed over the burden of the condition by living full, successful lives and achieving their biggest, boldest dreams.

The comedian and star of Mock the Week, Ed Gamble, has often joked about his type 1 diabetes on Twitter: “type 1 diabetes is one of the only things where you get sweets for getting it wrong.”

In Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, he is a great example of someone who deals successfully with the challenges of type 1 diabetes in a very demanding job. With his adrenalin spiking with every performance on stage or in front of a camera, he has to be totally on top of his ‘numbers’.

Ed has supported Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) by taking part in events and campaigns to raise awareness of the condition and raise funds to support type 1 diabetes research. As have others, including rugby and football stars, politicians and actors.

Henry Slade plays for Exeter Chiefs and England and was diagnosed at aged 18. He says it took him about 20 minutes to do his first insulin injection and finds it difficult to be spontaneous at times. “Obviously it’s a serious condition. There’s no getting around that. But it’s okay as long as you manage yourself. I check my blood sugar levels about eight to ten times a day. I test before every training session and in between as well.”

Actor James Norton was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in November 2010. The star of Grantchester, War and Peace and Happy Valley did not let type 1 diabetes prevent him from bursting onto the acting scene not long after his diagnosis and is now one of the UK’s leading actors.

But it is important that children with type 1 diabetes have other people to inspire them. Many can look to their parents and friends, who undertake great feats of endeavour to fundraise for JDRF. Nine year old Adam Cowie’s dad, Davie, will take part in his first every triathlon to raise £10,000 to help find a cure for his type 1 diabetes. Seven year old Sean Miller and five year old Conor Ralston watched their mums abseil off the Forth Road Bridge for the same reason.

And wouldn’t it be great if we had more? We want sports men and women with type 1 diabetes to step forward and show that life is great. We want business people, scientists and mums and dads with type 1 to show how new treatments and therapies are making their lives better all round. The US actor Paul Sparks spoke at this year’s JDRF Children’s Congress in Washington DC, recalling how as a young actor recently diagnosed with type 1 he would carry packets of sugar in the pockets of costumes, and drink orange juice while on stage. The star of House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire was diagnosed aged 28. Addressing the delegates and Senators, he was inspirational. Sparks said:

“These technologies … and other research advances literally save my life every day, and they save the lives of all these delegates.

“We are on the cusp of a new generation of therapies and devices and, hopefully, a cure. That’s why we can’t let up – we need to cure type 1 diabetes, so all of us can live a life and not think about the disease all the time.”

Jeanette Forbes is the Chairperson of the JDRF Scottish Development Group