Mornings in the Ward household are like a military operation.
Three of Jason and Jodie Ward’s five children suffer from Type 1 diabetes. That means as soon as they get up they need to have a blood test to check their blood sugar levels.
“Ebony is 12 and she tests herself and I test Ben and Toby who are seven and four,” says Jodie from Halifax.
“Ebony will inject herself with insulin straight away before breakfast You never know quite how much the boys are going to eat for breakfast so I have to be careful before injecting them.”
Ben, who was also recently diagnosed with epilepsy, has to have medication.
Eleven-year-old Leonie sorts herself out and then Jodie can turn her attention to baby Chloe who is one, before getting the three school-age children on their way.
Looking after her children’s health is a full-time job, which often means checking one of more of their blood levels throughout the night.
In total Jodie checks each child’s bloods on average 10-15 times a day. Ebony has to be injected six times a day by either by herself or at school.
“It is a difficult time for her,” says Jodie. “She has just started secondary school and doesn’t want to be different from the other children. But it is vital that she checks her blood sugar levels and injects herself or the consequences could be life threatening.”
No one knows why the three children developed Type 1 diabetes and it is extremely rare for so many members of one family to have the condition when neither parent has it.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The immune system incorrectly targets insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It should not be confused with Type 2 diabetes which is often linked to lifestyle where the body loses its ability to respond to the effects of insulin. Raising awareness about the difference between the two types of diabetes is something Jodie is passionate about.
“There has been a lot of talk about Type 2 diabetes being linked to lifestyle and obesity, the problem is people don’t know there is a different type of diabetes which isn’t linked to lifestyle at all,” she says. “The children sometimes get teased and even bullied, as before sport they have to have something sugary. People are ignorant and say that’s why they have diabetes or say that we as parents must have done something wrong.
“It couldn’t be further from the truth. I just want people to understand that this is something they are stuck with for life and is nothing that we or they have done. I don’t think if they were suffering from any other disease that we would get this treatment. There is a real stigma surrounding diabetes .”
Ben was the first of Jodie and Jason’s children to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“We realised quite soon after he was born that he wasn’t very well. After his first birthday we became really concerned he was waking up wet through from his nappy. We tried different brands but the same thing happened.”
It took three visits to the GP before Ben was referred to a consultant and eventually a blood test revealed what was wrong with him.
“His blood sugar level was 33.1 – normally it should be between four and eight. He just screamed and screamed and screamed. They really struggled to get levels under control and at one point they reached 56.”
Through his short life Ben has been in and out of hospital as his blood sugar levels can still rise to dangerous levels especially when he gets an illness. The danger is if his levels get too high he is in danger of getting diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – a life-threatening complication of diabetes. “It is very scary when it happens and it means we cannot leave him for second – he had seven DKAs last year.”
At school he has to have one to one support and have his blood tested up to 12 times a day and injections before every meal. His condition is exacerbated by the fact he has just been diagnosed with epilepsy. It was a year after Ben was diagnosed that Ebony started to show symptoms of diabetes
“She’d ask for a drink and then ask for another one straight away . I don’t know what made me think about testing her blood sugar level but I did and it was 27. I’d asked when Ben was diagnosed whether the girls needed testing and they said no, but after the reading I rang the diabetes team and they told me to take her to A&E. I thought they were making a fuss over nothing, but it turned out that she did have type 1 diabetes and she started on insulin injections that night.”
When Toby as born four years ago he wasn’t well either but doctors insisted that it wasn’t diabetes. But by two-and-a-half Toby’s behaviour deteriorated far beyond the normal terrible twos.
“We just couldn’t take him anywhere. It was horrific.”
Jodie kept testing his blood sugar levels, which fluctuated, but then shot up and her worst fears were confirmed. “I think I knew in my heart that he was diabetic but they kept saying it. As soon as he had the insulin we got out little boy back.” Now life for the Wards revolves around routine, blood testing and injections. Jodie has given up her job to look after the children.
“It is exhausting, especially when you have to test throughout the night. But they are my children, I chose to have them and it is up to me to look after them. They are amazing children and I feel blessed.”