A talented hurler, and a member of the Co Waterford senior hurling panel, Seanie Barry noticed that lately he always seemed to feel thirsty and dehydrated.
This was in 2014, and the young man from Lismore Co Waterford recalls, that on top of that, he was urinating 20 or 30 times a day and waking up at all hours of the night to go to the loo. Something wasn’t right — but all the same, he confesses, it took him around four months to get around to seeing the doctor. But when he did, in January 2015, the results were dramatic:
“The GP checked my blood sugar levels and told me that my glucose levels should have been between four and 10.
“When the results came back the reading was 48. This was critically high and I was referred straight to Cork University Hospital.”
He didn’t panic, he recalls now, because “I didn’t know anything about diabetes”.
At the hospital, Seanie was put on a drip and given treatment to bring down his blood glucose levels.
“I still didn’t understand or realise what was going on,” he recalls.
The young hurler was admitted to the hospital, where he stayed for about eight days and it was during this time that Seanie learned he had been officially diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“There was no family history of the condition on either my mother or my father’s side, and I couldn’t get to grips with why I had got it,” he recalls now.
“There seemed to be no explanation as to why I had it. I was feeling very down at the time,” he says, adding that he remembers that one of the very first things he asked upon receiving the unwelcome diagnosis was whether he could continue to play hurling.
“I got a lot of information about diabetes in the hospital, and it was a lot to process,” he recalls.
He also had to learn how to inject himself with insulin: “On my first day the doctor came in with insulin; they needed me to use it and explained how to inject it.
“I was a bit apprehensive about doing it and a nurse injected it for me the first time while I watched.
To begin with, he recalls, he felt negative about having the condition, particularly because there seemed to be no explanation for why he had it.
“However after that, I began to see there were positives — for example having diabetes makes me very aware of what I eat.
“It has focused me on eating healthily. I’m now very aware about what I take into my body,” he says, adding that people sometimes ask him about what he should or should not eat.
“It’s not about ‘not eating’ — it’s about being aware of what you eat and ensuring that your insulin levels are balancing with the carbohydrate and sugar content of what you eat,” he explains.
And he continued to hurl, though for a time he stepped back from the more high-profile matches. Although he had been a member of the Waterford senior hurling panel in 2013 and 2014, following his diagnosis in January 2015, he stepped down from the panel. However, he continued to play hurling with his local club:
“I decided to take a step back from the panel until I got to grips with my condition,” he recalls, adding, however, that he jumped at the chance to re-join the panel earlier this year when an opportunity arose.
“The Waterford senior hurling manager phoned and offered me a place on the panel,” recalls the 24-year-old who is finishing up his course in Pharmaceutical Manufacture at Dungarvan College.
These days, says Seanie, he’s definitely more positive about having diabetes:
“I’m still learning more about the condition and its effects.
“Diabetes Type 1 is quite a complex condition but I feel I’ve come to grips with it. I don’t let it affect anything I do now. I carry my insulin with me and it’s part of my life now, so I go with it.”
His advice to anyone who has diabetes.
While Type 1 tends to be diagnosed more frequently in children and Type 2 in adults, this is not a watertight way to view diabetes. Below are more comprehensive outlines of the main characteristics of the two types of diabetes.
This form of diabetes tends to occur in childhood or early adult life, and it always requires treatment with insulin injections.
It is caused by the body’s own immune system destroying the insulin-making cells (beta-cells) of the pancreas.
RISK FACTORS: Having another auto-immune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and psoriasis. Having a parent or sibling with Type 1 diabetes combined with other factors.
SYMPTOMS: Fast onset of extremely high blood glucose levels which cause weight loss, hunger, fatigue, thirst and frequent urination.
NATURE OF ILLNESS: Autoimmune condition, your cells kill off your insulin-producing (beta) cells. Body no longer makes insulin.
ONSET: Quick onset: Generally within a few days, weeks or months.
TREATMENT: Intense daily self-management of insulin to balance food intake or exercise. Must take multiple injections of insulin or infusion through insulin pump.
Age when you get it: Typically early childhood or teenage years, but can occur at any age.
Numbers with Type 1 diabetes: 14,000 – of which 3,000 are under 18 years.
Is it preventable? No.
Is it reversible? No.
General complications — applicable to both Type 1 and Type 2
Short-term complications can give rise to acute emergencies such as hypoglycemia and ketoacidosis.
Long-term exposure to low blood glucose levels can cause hypoglycemic unawareness.
Long-term exposure to high blood glucose levels can cause blood vessel damage. Blood vessel damage can cause blindness, retinopathy, heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, gastroparesis and may result in early mortality.
This usually develops slowly in adulthood. It is progressive and can sometimes be treated with diet and exercise, but more often Type 2 diabetes may require antidiabetic medicine and/or insulin injections.
RISK FACTORS: Poor diet. Being overweight. Being sedentary. Genetics. Being over the age of 45. Belonging to high-risk ethnic group. If you had gestational diabetes or a baby weighing over nine pounds. Certain medications.
SYMPTOMS: High blood sugar, thirst, waking in the middle of the night to urinate, fatigue, high blood pressure, urinary tract infection, neuropathy. But may also have no symptoms or just mild thirst or repeated infections.
NATURE OF ILLNESS: Insulin-inefficiency. Body makes insulin, but it isn’t used properly by the body, or is not enough to meet body demand.
ONSET: Slow: May be several years after blood glucose levels begin to rise. On average, 12 years pass between onset and diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.
TREATMENT: Daily self-management of food intake, exercise and medication. Over time roughly 40% may need to use insulin injections.
Age when you get it: Typically adults, but can occur at any age.
Numbers with Type 2 diabetes: Approximately 190,000 people.
Is it preventable? Yes, up to 58% of cases are preventable with healthy diet and weight control.
Is it reversible? Possibly, but this would certainly involve major weight loss (around 12-15kgs). It is worth noting that Type 2 diabetes is more easily managed.
Complications: Type 2
Many people at diagnosis of diabetes may have already had up to 12 years exposure to long-term high blood glucose levels and have complications at diagnosis — i.e. damage to large and small blood vessels throughout the body, causing blindness, retinopathy, heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, gastroparesis, and maybe early mortality.