The family living with type 1 diabetes

The mother Danielle taking a blood sugar test from daughter Elizabeth's toe. Five-year-old James and three-year-old Elizabeth have an average of 10 blood sugar tests each per day
Breakfast A close watch needs to be kept on the amount of carbohydrates they eat at every meal and snack time
Blood sugar meter That's because they need to maintain a blood sugar level of between four and seven, which is often difficult
Pump Like the children, mother Danielle uses an insulin pump, which is inserted in the stomach, legs or buttock
James The pump is attached 24 hours a day and delivers insulin throughout the day and night
Insulin pump The pump's cartridge needs to be changed every six days
Danielle holding Elizabeth Three-year-old Elizabeth was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was just nine-months-old
Notebook At school, both children have support staff with them to check their blood sugar and change their insulin
Walking to school But Danielle has to go to the school if there is anything unusual about their blood sugar levels
Glucagon syringe One evening, she had to give five-year-old James a shot of glucagon when his blood sugar levels were so low that she couldn't wake him up
Fridge Unsurprisingly, the family are on first name terms with the local pharmacist

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Like a lot of families with young children, Danielle Sellers and her partner Paul Burnett face a daily battle to get their children to sit down, eat breakfast and get out of the door on time.

But Danielle's morning comes with some added mental arithmetic.

Not only does she have type 1 diabetes but so do five-year-old James and three-year-old Elizabeth.

A Mum, a mathematician and a nurse all rolled into one, she's on call 24 hours a day to make sure that her own blood sugar levels and those of her children don't get dangerously out of control.

"So, two Weetabix is 25.7 grams of carbohydrate. With that they are having 100ml milk, which is five grams of carbohydrate. So that's 35.7 - if they eat it all. It's difficult with Weetabix because it absorbs all the milk.

"If you don't work it out properly it messes up their day."

The amount of insulin the children need changes according to how much carbohydrate they are going to eat.

But before they can eat there are the blood sugar tests. They each typically have at least 10 a day.

Danielle and Paul even set an alarm for 03:00 every morning to take the children's blood sugar reading while they are sleeping.

It's a testament to them that what was once stressful now appears to be a well-organised routine.

Locked kitchen

Diabetes: type 1 vs. type 2

Insulin dependent wristband
  • Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels, because of problems with the hormone insulin
  • In type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to produce any insulin
  • In type 2 diabetes, not enough insulin is produced or the insulin that is made by the body doesn't work properly

James is a blonde-haired ball of energy in a red school jumper. He barely looks up from the toy truck he is playing with on the floor as he holds his finger out to be pricked.

Both the children and Danielle have insulin pumps, which are worn 24 hours a day and deliver varying amounts of insulin throughout the day and night.

They are about the size of a mobile phone and administer the insulin through a needle in the children's bottoms.

The keypads of the pumps have to be locked to prevent the children or their classmates playing doctor and administering any accidental doses of insulin.

The only clue they are wearing them are the bags that hold them - Superman for him, Hello Kitty for her.

There are more than 29,000 children in the UK with type 1 diabetes, and studies have shown that the number of under fives developing the illness is growing. It's unclear why, unlike the increase in type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity.

If blood sugars get out of control it can lead to a stay in hospital - in the short term.

The long term health complications of badly managed type 1 diabetes can be fatal.

Because the children are too young to be able to understand what their blood sugar readings mean and how they should adjust their insulin accordingly, it's almost a full-time job to keep them between the recommended levels.

Start Quote

I had the feeling that he might have it but we were sort of ignoring it for a few days - we were in denial”

End Quote Danielle Sellers

As proved when James walks out of the kitchen chewing a Weetabix he grabbed out of the box.

Danielle has to do some more mental arithmetic and adjust James' insulin levels to account for his impromptu little snack.

It's why they normally keep the kitchen locked.

The family live in a village in West Yorkshire, in a small, close-knit community.

The school isn't required to provide any support to James and Elizabeth. But both children have a member of staff with them all day to monitor their blood sugar and adjust their insulin.

Danielle spent three months going into the school every day to help the teachers and show them what to do.

And she still gets called to the school if there are any complications with the children's readings.


Playing sport, getting excited, being ill - any number of things can affect their blood sugar levels.

Being able to drop everything at a moment's notice to walk the 10 minutes to the school is why Danielle gave up her job as a nurse.

She has had type 1 diabetes since she was four-years-old, but had no idea when she was pregnant that there was any possibility that her children would be diabetics too.

She is a positive person and laughs often, but admits to being upset when she first saw the signs that James was diabetic when he was just two-years-old.

He was thirsty all the time and his nappies and bed were soaked with urine.

"I had the feeling that he might have it but we were sort of ignoring it for a few days. We were in denial," Danielle says.

She tested his blood and found that his blood sugar was very high.

"I was mortified. You've got the guilt - because I've got it. We had just moved here, my grandma had just died and James was diagnosed, so it was a tough time."

She decided to test baby Elizabeth and found that her blood sugar was high too.

Elizabeth was just nine-months-old when she was diagnosed, and she had to learn to walk with an insulin pump taped to her.

Danielle says that she and Paul struggled to come to terms with the fact that James and Elizabeth "are going to be sticking needles in themselves for the rest of their lives and they have the risk of kidney failure, blindness, heart problems, strokes even, at a young age".

Despite the difficulties, type 1 diabetes can be managed and Danielle tries to make sure that the children lead as normal lives as possible.

Elizabeth goes to dance class, James is going to start taekwondo.

Insulin pump The pumps, which are worn 24 hours a day, deliver insulin in different amounts during the day and night

But the family haven't been abroad and the children haven't spent the night apart from their parents.

Any kind of illness, particularly involving vomiting, normally results in a stay in the hospital to try to stabilise blood sugar levels.

When Danielle was younger she didn't know anyone else with diabetes and used to pretend that she didn't have it.

She went to the toilet to inject insulin and admits that she didn't look after herself as well as she should have. Thankfully there haven't been any long-term repercussions.

Even now, Danielle doesn't always keep an eye on her own blood sugar quite as closely as she should.

Thirty blood sugar tests a day can sometimes be too much, even for her.

And she has her hands full dealing with the children's diabetes. Starting with Elizabeth's lunch.

"15.9, so 16 grams carbs per slice of bread. She doesn't want the crusts, so I've got to work it out - it's 10 grams for that slice," she says to herself.

"So that's a 20 gram sandwich."

Managing the illness will become easier as the children get older and can look after themselves.

But unless a cure is found, there will be no end to the blood tests, needles and the mental arithmetic for any of them.

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