In 100 stories for 100 years of insulin

“I can remember being blindsided.”

Maggie Dent, parenting educator, bestselling author and mother to son Alex, who has type 1 diabetes.

Renowned parenting educator and bestselling author Maggie Dent has vivid memories of the day her son Alex – who she fondly refers to as ‘Al’ – was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

“I can remember being blindsided — it just came out of nowhere,” says Maggie, who is a proud mother of four boys.

“He’d been to Bali with his two older brothers and got quite sick, and he was vomiting quite a bit.
“Then on top of that, he had to go have a knee reconstruction, so I was really worried about him getting over his tummy bug, and then his knee, so I had to drive him home to Albany.”

During his post-surgery recovery, Maggie recalls asking Alex to wee in a jar and had noticed it was clear, with no odour.

“Then I thought…something’s not right here. I just knew something wasn’t right,” she says.

“Fortunately, his dad is a vet and he came up with some urine testing sticks and found he had a lot of ketones.

“So I took him up to the hospital and by that afternoon, the doctor turned to me and said he’s experienced sudden onset adolescent diabetes, he is going to need insulin for the rest of his life.”

Maggie recalls the initial numbness after learning of her son’s diagnosis.

“I remember looking at him, and he looked at me — and he’s usually a resilient, optimistic character— and he said ‘Geez, mum…this is going to be a really big long-term proposition’,” she says.

“So it was the numbness of how quickly it happened, and I think that, when there’s any sudden threat to our kids’ health, the first initial stage is shock, then you step into the phase of OK what do we do, and that’s the start of the learning journey.”

While Maggie is thankful that Alex — who is now 35 and has children of his own — has been able to manage the condition without fuss, she knows all too well how it feels to be consumed with anxiety about their child’s diabetes.

Maggie recalls how nervous she felt about Alex starting university in Perth while she was hundreds of kilometres away at their family home in Albany.

“He was a bit of a party boy and he was off to university,” she recalls. “So I thought ‘Oh I’m not there to watch him’ and I was really worried that he’d make poor choices. But the best thing is when he was allocated a fabulous diabetes educator in Perth and I could then relax because she knew what she was talking about and she went through the sorts of things that an 18-year-old would be experiencing, including how to drink safely at parties. And once he nailed that, it meant he could still do the same things as others his age.”

But a year after Alex was diagnosed, he discovered just how quickly his diabetes could change when his blood glucose levels shot up following a car accident.

“It was then that he recognised that it’s never a simple process regardless of whether you’re managing how you eat and how much you exercise,” she says.

“He said to me that every single person’s experience with type 1 is different, and that you cannot guarantee, even with the best management, that you can have predictable life.

“Every day is different. And it was really lovely to have that conversation with him. And even now his kids don’t even bat an eyelid whenever he lifts his shirt and sticks the insulin in. It’s all part of our normal.”

Maggie’s advice for parents and carers who are feeling overwhelmed by their child’s diabetes is to make sure they’re well-informed about the disease and to stay on top of their own mental wellbeing, whether it’s taking up meditation or yoga or seeking help from a counsellor.

“Go along to a seminar or anything online that’s run by people who deal with diabetes,” she says.

“I know there are some organisations that offer unique counselling for parents who have children with type 1, so I’d suggest they go to those ones first.

“Then down the track, it’s also about managing your own personal stress levels. I find the calmer the parent is, the less likely we have the sorts of flare-ups of anything in our home.

“So we really have to do some responsible mental health assessments of ourselves, and not make our child feel like they’re contributing to higher levels of stress in our lives.”

As for how to help teens cope with managing the condition, Maggie said peer support can prove extremely helpful.

“We know that the number one thing teens are struggling with right across Australia is managing stress — so type 1 is just one other added chunk,” she says.

“So they really do need to talk with others who have gone through it, possibly someone in their 20s and 30s to see that you can manage it better as you get older.”


To mark 100 years since the discovery of insulin, Diabetes WA is sharing 100 stories from West Aussies living with diabetes. If you would like to #DWAjointhefight and share your story, complete these questions.

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