FEATURE: A look back over the past 30 years of the High Peak Diabetic Self Help Group
For 30 years, a High Peak group has been helping people manage their diabetes.
And as High Peak Diabetic Self Help Group approaches its 30th anniversary, founder Sue Barber still thinks work needs to be done to make sure more people receive the help and support they need to deal with the illness.
She said: “I can’t believe that after all these years there still isn’t the support out there.”
The group started in 1986 after Sue’s son became poorly and doctors did not know why.
It later transpired that he had a blood sugar level of 44 - a healthy child’s is between three and eight - and her son had type one diabetes.
Sue, who worked as a trained bio-medical scientist, said: “I was fairly clued up about what diabetes was, but I found there was no paediatric clinic in the area and no emotional support or just another parent to talk things over with.”
Realising a need for a group Sue, from Tideswell, set up the High Peak Diabetic Self Help Group as a short-term solution.
Sue, 72, said: “Nurses from Stepping Hill Hospital only came out as far as Disley and nurses from Chesterfield don’t come out over here. It felt that people in the High Peak had been forgotten about.”
After the closure of the Devonshire Royal Hospital where she had worked, the group found a new home at the Buckingham Hotel where they meet once a month.
Sue has been on courses and seminars to learn as much about diabetes as possible.
She said: “For some the group really has been a lifeline offering help and support and letting people know that they are not alone.”
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar (glucose) level to become too high.
There are two main types; Type 1 where the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin and Type 2 – where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin.
Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, but usually appears before the age of 40, particularly in childhood. Diabetes can’t be cured, but treatment aims to keep blood glucose levels as normal as possible and control symptoms, to prevent health problems developing later in life. This is done with insulin injections.
The group now tends to focus on children although all ages are welcome. There is still no paediatric facility in the area, but a consultant from Stepping Hill visits twice a month.
She said: “The group has grown and we want to help as many people as we can.
“To a parent who has just found out their child has diabetes, my first piece of advice is to take a deep breath. I know it is a big shock but children can lead perfectly ‘normal’ lives.
“Diabetes is not that common so for some children they may be the only ones in their school with the condition and they can feel slightly isolated, so we make them feel included.”
The group takes the children on day trips and Sue said it is important to include all the family.
She explained: “With hindsight we can see our mistakes and being in a group you can stop people making the same errors you did.
“When my son was diagnosed I banned sweets from the house and it was only when my other son came to me at Easter and asked if he could have a chocolate egg next year that I realised I was going about things the wrong way.”
Over the years the diabetes support group has taken children and their siblings to see Torvill and Dean and pantomimes at Buxton Opera House.
Sue said: “Nothing is off limits and as long as people have the right knowledge they can tackle diabetes head on.
“We used to throw kids parties and before everyone ate you would see a line of children doing their insulin injections so it normalises it.”
The group also provides help for those with Type 2 diabetes which occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to function properly, or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin.
This means glucose stays in the blood and isn’t used as fuel for energy.
Sue said: “There is still a stigma surrounding diabetes which I would like to get rid off. Diabetes can in certain circumstances be controlled by diet and exercise, but it is not a condition that those who have it should be ridiculed or mocked due to an inactive lifestyle.”
Sue added: “Sadly there is still a need for this group and I wish that there wasn’t, but there isn’t the medical support this area needs.
“I’m not getting any younger and I would love there to be a dedicated clinic to look after people with diabetes, but I don’t think it is on the cards yet.”
There will be a celebration and reunion to mark 30 years in October and past service user are welcome.
For more information, contact Sue on 01298 871644.