Thursday, 14 July 2011

Justin Webb press article

I admire the campaigning work that Radio 4 Broadcaster Justin Webb undertakes to raise awareness of Type-1 Diabetes, and in particular the articles he writes speaking of his own personal experience when his son Sam was diagnosed with the disease.  I remember reading one in particular that my Mum had saved and sent up to me, where he was describing the experience when his Son was diagnosed over the Christmas holidays in 2008-9.  I could relate to the emotions he was describing and began to realise that we certainly wern't alone in what we were coming to terms with, despite the brilliant support from Janet the Diabetes Nurse and the JDRF website.

Below is a snippet from the article which appeared in the Daily Telepraph last September.  There are many thoughts and phrases so familiar to families living with Type1.  Keep up the good work, Justin.

"As Sarah and her interviewee were talking, I saw clearly and inescapably the sleeping face of my 10-year-old son Sam, who has an auto-immune disease, Type 1 Diabetes. Before I had left the house at 3.15 that morning, I had gone upstairs to prick his finger, fiddling about in the dark for the equipment and waking him in the process. As ever, he had been sweet and stoical as I checked his blood and administered insulin. He went back to sleep and I went to work. But the truth is that my wife Sarah and I carry his illness with us like an extra piece of luggage; it comes with us on holiday, it sits reproachfully next to us at a jolly lunch with friends, and it stalks us in the office.
We know deep in our hearts that when someone suggests that a cure is at hand for the illness that threatens our son day and night, we would do anything to seize it. We would go to any hospital anywhere. Not because we are stupid, but because we love him. By all means let us hear the warnings about the dodgy stem cells, and let us heed them, but let us not forget that seeking cures for sick relatives is a basic human desire; it is a good thing, not a cause for finger-wagging.
I do not exaggerate when I say that I begin every day with a glance at a Google alert that says "Type 1 Diabetes" and "cure". So far no luck: but a huge effort is under way and in Sam's lifetime it is not impossible. The wonderful fundraising efforts of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation have already had a significant impact in reducing the capacity of the disease to kill.

Nowadays a person in the western world who develops Type 1 Diabetes can expect, with luck and frequent blood-sugar checks and insulin injections with every meal, to live much longer. But it can be a pretty miserable life, particularly if you are undisciplined or poor. Family days out get very difficult when insulin needs to be transported and kept cold, when fruit juice is forbidden (too many carbohydrates too quickly absorbed) and when parents are exhausted and worried.

Having said that, I am deeply, painfully aware that our travails are minor compared with those that some parents suffer. Sam is still Sam. He is happy and affectionate and full of vigour and ambition. He is a classic case of the value of modernity. When people moan about our culture, the priorities and the fixations of the modern Western world, I think of Sam, who is cared for by NHS doctors, using insulin made by a US company. From the very moment he was diagnosed and rushed to hospital, he has benefited from the care and intellectual effort and wealth and pro-life priorities of the modern world. To suggest otherwise, as Jeremiahs sometimes do, is to be disrespectful to the many people who devote their lives to caring for those with chronic illnesses, and, frankly, to the UK taxpayers who bankroll the whole
enterprise with good grace.

One good thing has come out of Sam's illness. It is pretty small but here it is anyway: I think I am better at my job. Too many reporters are insulated from the distress of the world. As a young man I travelled to wars and famines and felt sympathy but never attachment. To those folks rushing off for the dodgy cell therapy, I now feel a genuine closeness. I also feel angry when I see Sam's disease misreported – confused, typically, with the more common Type 2 Diabetes that you generally get from over-eating. Too many medical and scientific stories are lazily reported: now I know the distress this can cause.

As for Sam, he is fine. He wastes no time at all fretting about cures and miracles. That's for Mum and Dad. We'll do it for him. And if one day I turn on my computer at 4 in the morning and someone in Timbuktu has found a cure, I shall wait until 9am, then I'll be on my way before the pips have stopped sounding..."

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