My life in Science whilst raising a child with type 1 diabetes

Biomedical Science, Type 1 Diabetes, Coeliac Disease and other findings


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Diabetes Blog week – and Biomedical science exams!!

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Hi folks, it’s a busy time for me at the moment, I have completed my honours year research project aimed at investigating the inflammatory cellular infiltrates in osteoarthritis – using immunohistochemistry techniques.  This process developed my enthusiasm for research, and I learned lots of new lab skills – which will no doubt help me on my way to being a wonderful Diabetes researcher (one can dream).

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I have exams next week (insert image of a tiny violin here) –  Biomedical genetics and public health microbiology.  Therefore, I’ve not written a blog for a bit.  However, there has been lots of other interesting events happening.  First off, I wrote to my local MSP asking why the Medtronic 640g with smartlink technology doesn’t seem to be filtering it’s way to Scotland yet, and to discuss with him the benefits of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) in managing type 1 diabetes.

The reply from him stated that according to SIGN guidelines, it is not recommended that a person with type 1 diabetes should use a CGM for routine management.  So, for now until there is further research on the benefits of using a CGM,  with insulin pump therapy, we must continue to prick my son’s finger >7 times a day. Here’s the thing I feel as his parent, – his fingers are ruined.  I say that with conviction! A better future for the testing of blood glucose must surely be on the horizon? This is an open call – from me! … However, as a Biomedical Science student, I have no money. Just to be clear on that!

Recently, we were lucky to have a mini trial of a CGM (6 days), on loan from our fantastic paediatric team at Crosshouse Hospital, in Ayrshire.  This allowed us to see what is happening with John’s glycaemic control, outwith the times that medtronic-cgmwe prick his fingers.  Shockingly, he suffered a serious hypo one morning which lasted over an hour – whilst he lay asleep in bed.  Importantly, whilst we all lay asleep in bed. He never woke to any alarms, or sensations that he was having a hypoglycaemic attack/episode.

This sets of major anxiety for parents of children with type 1 diabetes.  The “what if” scenario is one which my brain does not want to answer.   I understand there are major cost implications in offering a patient CGM.  The NICE guidelines on integrated pump and sensor technology (pump + CGM) discusses the benefits of using this technology – particularly if a patient is experiencing nocturnal hypoglycaemia! I could take a stab in the dark guess that this was a post-exercise hypo, as he has been snowboarding a lot lately, and playing football, and skateboarding, and ice skating, and… ok! you get the picture, he is a sporty young lad. Functioning pancreas or not – we live life with joy – and lot’s of bags full of equipment and sugar needless to say.

Type 1 gardenjohnjumpball-1Diabetes aside, it is also coeliac awareness week and we have been sharing a few stories on Facebook to raise awareness of this too! Apparently, there are over half a million people in the UK whom are living with coeliac disease, undiagnosed.  This raises concern with me, as I know all about the tissue damage and the effects of this if the disease goes untreated – so please click on the link above, and read their campaign! Our son’s diagnosis was pivotal in helping him feel good again, after months of painful cramps, diarrhoea, bloody bowel movements and weight loss – so don’t hang about folks.  Have a watch at Caroline Quentin’s recent piece shown on ITV’s This Morning to see how easy to procedure can be.

As far as study leave is going, that I will leave to the imagination.. I am typing a blog at the moment, which begs the question, how much revision have I achieved today?  #timemanagement.  The only other thing left to say is, I think I might go for a PhD or post-graduate study. Should I? Answers on a postcard.

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IBMS, CPC, HCPC, Portfolio, Hons – how many more abbrev. Can my blog take?

JohnMilport-1Diddle Diddle dumpling, my son John!

Hi everyone, I’m currently on a work placement over the summer working with IBHER (Institute of Biomedical Health and Environmental Research) within University of the West of Scotland laboratories.  This entails me volunteering basically, to gain much needed experience.  For which I am very grateful, mainly because every job I see advertised states “2 years post qualification experience”. Have you seen this?  I understand completely as a mature student, and one whom has taken a career change, that you simply cannot allow a new graduate to enter labs and start playing ‘The scientist’, but within my degree there was limited accessibility to placements.  Hence, when the sun is shining, and you kids are all playing with hoses and paddling pools whilst I am in the labs!  Violins please – at the ready.

I write this blog with some dismay also, because as you may know, I wanted to study Biomedical Science to allow me to gain access to labs involved with Diabetes Research – possibly to gain a job as a research assitant/technician.  However, my summer placement involves working with murine and human models of OA (osteoarthritis) and characterisation of the cellular infiltates in synovium.  This involves IHC techniques, and microtomy.  Both of which, I am enjoying learning but I still have my heart and passion set on Diabetes research. Does this sound petulant?  I hope not, because I sincerely am grateful for this opportunity but I just fear it may create some unwanted distance from my goals.  In one hand, we are encouraged to think of our goals – or aspirations, but on the otherhand we need to balance reality and what fits in with our own personal circumstances.  The balance which we all live with in society.

Also, sometimes I have doubts about completing honours year due to the continued need for post qualification certification and the fact that nowhere has the time to allow this to happen in the NHS at the moment.  I know of two friends who studied Bsc Hons in Biomedical Science and now work as Band 3 lab assistants – a job which is advertised as “no formal qualifications are necessary”.  So, what to do? honours year or not? that is the debate.  Meanwhile, my family are enjoying summer on our limited budget – and beans are a staple diet right? HashtagNotInItForTheMoney

On a more personal note, I have been volunteering as team leader for Diabetes Uk Big Collection Weekend again and helped to raise over £12M for the charity with all the wonderful volunteers up and down the country in Tesco stores.  I am forever grateful to my friends for giving up their time to come and help my team, and I promise to continue my support for both JDRF and Diabetes Uk no matter what.   John and some friends managed to show the Tesco staff their Insulin pumps, and got some amazing support from members of the public who were not aware of how serious Type 1 diabetes actually is to live with.

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Mentoring, Support and Guidance

ImageRecently, I have been lucky enough to take part in a wonderful scheme through my University, to attend a mentoring programme with a commercial organisation.  That organisation happens to be a global world leader in servicing the scientific industries, known as ThermoFisher Scientific. As an undergraduate with university laboratory experience, and limited awareness of where these skills would be transferable, the experience has so far enlightened me and gave me confidence that I can develop and build on my strengths.  I felt wonderment approaching the company, and discussing my future plans during mock interviews.  My CV has had some restructuring and now looks very polished.  My attitude towards my “soft skills” has changed from – “who wants a mother who has been a carer for the past 7 years?” to “Well, I’m an immaculately organised individual who has taken some major life challenges on board and learned to succeed under great pressure”.  What can I say? There’s a new shiny me on the horizon and I am truly excited about my future now.  A different story a few years back with a very young baby whose life was hanging on the balance.

However, I want to say more about the mentoring. I want to convey that the experience has not only been uplifting, confidence building and enriching for me – it has also shown me that everyone out there, in the industry has a story to tell. That my story may be poignant and inspiring, but there are so many others out there living a similar life.  People creating life-changing scientific breakthroughs, the people behind them supporting them and believing in their goal, the technologists building the tools, the driven Marketing and sales teams reaching out to meet scientific companies core values and needs. The wide expanse of life technology in Scotland alone, and the possibilities for graduates to get involved is out there and it’s a great impetus to get to know yourself better. 

I have doubted myself along the way, several times, with pressures of workload and learning topics that had me mimicking Stan Laurel from the wonderful ‘Laurel and Hardy’ movies (genius if you ask me!). But somehow, I keep on persevering because the fact of the matter is, it still annoys me greatly that no one truly understands why Type 1 Diabetes occurs or how to prevent it.  I read somewhere once, that the answers are all “out there” (wherever that is?) and it is up to us to find them.  I like this motto!

One major challenge I have facing me, that frightens me at the moment, is my son’s transition to Secondary school! Him taking on more responsibilities and managing that fine balance –  when we are talking about a drug that keeps him alive everyday, but could also pose a life threatening risk to him at the same time! It would amazing if Medtronic or Novo Nordisk could inspire the Scottish Government to employ Diabetes trained specialist nurses in Schools these days, but as most school nurses are peripatetic that dream may be a far off fantasy! I know that Diabetes Uk has a current campaign to improve care for children in schools in England, but not sure what polans are under way for children in Scotland. http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Get_involved/Campaigning/Our-campaigns/Type-1-diabetes-Make-the-grade/.  Also JDRF have a major parliamentary campaign launched recently to help ministers realise why research is so important and more funding is needed, http://www.jdrf.org.uk/campaigns/countmein, but at ground level many mistakes are still affecting my son’s healthcare and support at school and this is the key factor in all of the decisions I base my life plans around.  At the end of the day, I am his mother, his carer and his needs will always come first. 

It is with all this in mind I have decided that my Honours year at University will need to be put on hold at the moment.  It has not been an easy decision to make, but I feel that my University would prefer students in Biomedical Science who take on honours, to do so as full-time students.  Which I cannot fulfil.  It has taken me 7 years as a part-time student to get this far, and I think that shows I’m dedicated, but as I say, it’s all about the balance. 

If you are interested in becoming a part-time student please contact the Lifelong learning academy at UWS for further information.