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Alan Button: A Father’s Personal Story

September 8, 2010

Allan Button shares his story of how his son, Michael, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes…

As far as opening lines go, you have to admit, “Dad, I’m going to hospital, I’ve got diabetes,” is a pretty good one!

That’s what greeted me when I answered the phone early on the morning of March 12 this year. My then 18-year-old son, Michael, was calling from college.

In London.

Five thousand miles away.

It was the start of Spring Break here in Texas, and my wife Sarah and I, and 13-year-old daughter Annie, were about to fly to Colorado.

Timing, as they say, is everything!

I would have hoped to come up with something inspiring or comforting, but all I said was, “okay.”

Two weeks earlier we had been video-conferencing with Michael on Skype and he looked as if he might have lost weight. A trick of the camera we decided.

He said he was drinking lots of water. Must be all the sport you’re doing we said.

He was also going to the “loo” all the time. (We’re English. That’s the bathroom).

Well, if you drink a lot you would, wouldn’t you?

See how easy it is to not see the wood for the trees?

However, somewhere at the back of my brain, a little bell was ringing. “It’s probably nothing,” I said, “but if things don’t change in a few days, you may want to get a blood test. I think those are symptoms of diabetes.”

Needless to say, nothing changed and Michael’s blood was duly tested. In fact things got worse because the night before he was to get the results he had become violently sick. (Another symptom, I know now). The test, of course, showed his blood sugar levels to be through the roof, and prompted the phone call I mentioned earlier.

So, in the space of three weeks we thought we had gone from “everything’s ticking along nicely”, to “the end of the world as we knew it!” The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.

Technically speaking, Michael is now an adult and quite within his rights to manage his health issues on his own. You are a braver person than me, however, if you try telling that to his Mum! She was bedside in London within 36 hours. Probably the only time I have been grateful for the amount of traveling she does for work. That Platinum American Airlines status certainly came in handy!

Four days later Michael was out of hospital, and eating like a horse! Now, thanks to the insulin shots, his body could actually benefit from the food he was eating and he was making up for lost time. He was also learning about a previously unknown world; carb counting! At this point he had a little book to help him with carbohydrate values of certain foods. Now, he has built up enough experience to “eyeball it” in most cases.

While Michael was learning the hard way, through experience, we did our bit to boost the profits of Amazon and Google, among others. We now have a pretty impressive collection of low G.I. cookbooks, and manuals on diabetes. The biggest help to us, however, were two family friends who were also Type 1. When he came back to the US for Easter break these two ladies took Michael under their wing, (and to Starbucks), and gave him the low down on the “dos” and “don’ts” of living with diabetes. Priceless. Michael also made the decision very early on that he would tell his friends about his diabetes. He’s a teenager. He still thinks he’s “bullet proof”, but at least we know he has people around him that know what to look for, and how to help him if he needs it. This summer he has interned with JDRF in Dallas, and that too has been a huge help in adjusting to life with diabetes.

Fortunately, it never became an issue for us whether Michael would stay at college in London or not, following his diagnosis. He adapted quickly to giving himself insulin shots, and showed good discipline in testing his blood sugar regularly. Also, under the British National Health Service, his prescriptions are free, and he discovered that, as a recognized disability, his diabetes entitled him to 10-minute breaks during exams!

There have been a few bumps in the road, of course. Unexpected “lows” are the scary ones, obviously. Particularly as his warning signs can be really, really subtle. It has become a habit now that he tests his blood sugar every time before driving, going to the gym, or playing soccer, and the importance of testing generally can not be over emphasized. Having to watch what you eat, count carbs, and give yourself insulin regularly also gets old pretty quick too, but the “prize”, hopefully, is fewer complications in later life.

Michael goes back to college in England in mid September. Six months after diagnosis I sometimes forget he has diabetes. He, of course, doesn’t have that luxury. We are lucky in so many ways, and I’m sure there will be problems to deal with in the future, but, for now, I think I will settle for “okay” after all.

Michael’s mum, Sarah, is going to be participating in JDRF’s Ride to Cure Diabetes on November 18 -21 in Tucson, Arizona. You too can join JDRF’s team of riders and find out why Bicycling magazine calls this event “one of America’s ten best centuries.” JDRF will share with more than 9,000 cyclist, 2,000 volunteers and 27,000 spectators. In its 27 year history, the UMC El Tour de Tucson presented by Diamond Ventures has become known as the most prestigious bicycling event for cyclist of all ages and abilities. To learn more about JDRF’s Ride to Cure Diabetes, please contact Scott Childress at schildress@jdrf.org or (214) 764-6771 or visit our website.

Follow JDRF Dallas on Facebook!

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