Oisín Duggan with his older siblings, Siofra and Daithi.
MUM Jennifer Duggan admits she knew little or nothing about diabetes, but that changed drastically in January, 2018.
“My baby, Oisín, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was just two and a half,” says Jennifer, of Carrragline.
“We had spent Christmas in Kerry with my parents and my family. Over that week Oisín was drinking a lot.
“We put it down to him having a bit of a head cold but we had an uneasy feeling.
“When we got back home to Carrigaline we made an appointment to see our GP on of January 2. As I was back at work, my husband, Padraig, took Oisín to the doctor. She did a finger prick by getting a tiny amount of blood from his finger and both times it read ‘HI’. She said he needed to be brought to the CUH Emergency Room (ER) and to pack a bag.”
Jennifer recalls: “Driving in, I convinced myself it would be nothing, but my gut instinct knew it wasn’t going to be good news. We got to the ER and I handed in the letter the GP had given us. Her first question was ‘Does anyone else in the family other than Oisín have Type 1 Diabetes?’ I told her no and remember being a little annoyed that she was talking as though Oisín had Type 1 Diabetes.
“She had done another finger prick and it said 33, so she knew what it meant. I didn’t know what any of this meant but suddenly things started to move very fast.
“We were brought to a room just off the ER and a stream of doctors and nurses came in and out. I was in a daze and one of the doctors noticed and sat beside me. He looked at me and said ‘Mom, Oisín does have Type 1 Diabetes, nothing he did, nothing you did caused this, but he is a Type 1 Diabetic. There is no cure and it is a life-long condition’.”
This conversation was followed by her son’s first injection of insulin.
“All this happened within two hours of getting to the hospital,” said Jennifer. “I was terrified. I felt physically sick. My heart ached and I was beyond worried. I was scared and I felt incredibly sad for my baby boy.

“I had to be strong for him as he was, as he always is, smiling through it all, not a care in the world. I didn’t want to scare him by showing how scared I was.
“But when Oisín went to sleep that first night on the ward, I cried until my eyes had no tears left. I cried for what I thought he’d lose out on, things like birthday parties, gymnastics like his sister, birthday cakes, play dates with friends, trick or treat at Halloween, a ‘normal’ carefree childhood.”
Over the next week, Jennifer got ‘training’ from the Diabetic Team, the nurses and dieticians.
“We would learn about how to keep our beautiful baby boy alive. We would have to learn how to do finger pricks on his tiny little fingers to get his blood sugar levels. We had to learn how to count carbs in everything Oisín ate. We had to learn to inject him with the insulin he needed to stay alive, while realising that too much could cause an overdose with drastic unbearable consequences.
“We had to learn terms like Diabetic Ketoacidosis. We had to learn about ‘hypos’ or low blood sugars and how to treat them. We had to learn about ‘hypers’ or high blood sugars and how to treat these. We had to learn how to deal with and handle days where Oisín might get sick.
“We came home on Tuesday after a week in Hospital. It was just like coming home with a new baby. That fear. That uncertainty. The feeling of being out of your depth and facing the unknown.
“Oisín was very happy to be home and Daithí and Síofra were delighted to have their little brother back. It was very hard in those first few weeks and months. Oisín had to have two injections of long-acting insulin, one in the morning and one at night. He also had to have injections for all his meals which meant injecting at least three more times a day. He had finger pricks every time his blood sugars were low or high and every time he ate.
“It wasn’t easy on his brother and sister as this was all new for them too. It was scary seeing your little brother getting injections. They both worry about him and it can be scary for them seeing him sad and upset when he is low or angry and cross when he is high.
“The reality was sinking in that this was how things were going to be. That Type 1 Diabetes wasn’t going anywhere. That this was a part of us now and that took coming to terms with.”
After eight months of injections, Oisín got his first insulin pump in October, 2018, just in time for Halloween. “He got to pick out some of his treats to have on Halloween night and all the running around meant he actually needed some of them to help keep his sugars up,” said Jennifer.
“The beauty of having the insulin pump meant he had and has more freedom when it comes to eating. When on injections, we had to wait three hours between them so if Oisín was hungry he would have carb free food that didn’t need insulin like cheese or ham.
“It also meant we went from at least five injections a day to an insulin pump that gets changed every two days by putting in a new cannula on the body.
“Oisín also got a Dexcom Sensor that gets inserted on his arm every week to 10 days. This sends his blood sugar readings every five minutes so it reduces the amount of finger pricks we have to do.
“Oisín was doing well and we were doing OK mostly with our new normal.”

Then, in July, 2021, Oisín had a seizure in the middle of the night, possibly caused by a low blood sugar.
“It was one of the scariest things I’ve had to go through and I was just willing him to be OK,” recalled Jennifer. The ambulance came and after a few hours in hospital we were left home. He has no real memory of it but does say he remembers me talking to him.
“We were told it was just something that can happen and that it was most likely a one-off, but it brought home the seriousness of the condition.”
Oisín is seven now and has just gotten a new insulin pump that is working really well for him.
“His sensor ‘talks’ to his pump and it can give more or less insulin, depending on what his blood sugar levels are,” said Jennifer.
“We still have to carb count and do all the things we have been doing, but it gives better control. Oisín is such an amazing little boy, everything he goes through, he is always smiling. He just takes it all in his stride and gets on with it. His love for life and fun is infectious.
“That’s not to say we don’t have hard days. Type 1 Diabetes likes to keep us on our toes and no two days are the same. There are days where we do everything ‘right’ and things can still go wrong, it can be like a rollercoaster.
“You can’t decide to take a break from it or take a day off. You have to be on top of it 24/7 and even then it won’t always go to plan.
“Going away takes more planning and organising with all Oisín’s supplies needing to be packed and rechecked to make sure we have everything. Getting a babysitter or going for a night out is rare as we need to make sure we have someone who can take care of Oisín who knows about his condition.
“We’re very lucky to have found our baby sitter who was an SNA in a school so she had looked after kids with it before.”
Since he started in Gaelscoil Charraig Uí Leighin, Oisín has done a little presentation in his class about Type 1 Diabetes to raise awareness and so his little friends understand why he needs snacks sometimes or why he has to check his bloods.
“His school, teachers and SNAs have been so supportive and he bounces in the door every day,” said Jennifer. “He has got the most amazing friends, both in school and outside, who have a great understanding already from learning from him. It is great that they have such kindness and that they look out for each other.”
Jennifer admits she knew nothing about Type 1 Diabetes until it landed at her door.
“There is an unawareness there about why it happens and a misconception that the child or person has somehow caused it. We’ve had someone ask was it because he had too many sweets as a child. People also think because we have been dealing with it for a few years that it must be stable by now, without realising that everything has an impact on blood sugars.
“Obvious things like food will rise sugars and exercise can drop them. But less obvious things like a trip to Smyths toys or a visit to Nan and Grand-da will suddenly raise Oisín bloods so the excitement has an impact.
“The first day back at school, his bloods are always high. A trip to the dentist will drop his bloods so nerves can affect his bloods. If he falls and cuts his knee, we’ll see a sharp rise followed by a sudden drop.
“In short, everything affects his blood sugars and stable isn’t something we see often.
“I worry about the toll it will take on his mental health as he gets older and becomes a teenager who doesn’t want to stand out or be different. We’re so lucky his friends around him are growing and learning with him.
“His big brother Daithí and big sister Síofra are always on hand to help when he’s feeling rubbish because of a low and sit with him and mind him while we wait it out and wait for them to come back up. We still have sleepless nights, or nights where we wake up in a panic because we think we’ve missed an alert or alarm for a high or low. We still worry about what would happen if something were to happen us, who would take care of Oisín?
“I’m beyond proud of Oisín. He teaches me so much. He takes everything in his stride and having Type 1 Diabetes doesn’t slow him down. He does GAA with Carrigaline and recently played a football blitz in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and he goes to Carrigaline Gymnastics. He loves nothing more than racing up and down the road with his friends on his rainbow BMX and the challenge is getting him to come in when it’s time for bed. He is always smiling and has such a love for life.
“He has such a great understanding and knowledge of his condition already, it really is amazing to see and he never shies away from answering when asked about his pump or sensor. 
“There is nothing he can’t do or eat, it might take a little more planning but that we can do. We made the decision early on that while Oisín has Type 1 Diabetes, it does not have him.”
Jennifer said being the parent of a child newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes is scary. “It is a minefield of information and terrifying beyond belief. But, and I don’t say this lightly, it does get easier. You’ll find your ‘New Normal’, you’ll find what works for you.
“You’ll have bad days but you move past them, you take what you can from them, you learn where you can but you put them behind you knowing there are good days to be had too.
“You reach out to other parents of kids with Type 1 Diabetes who get it and who know what it is like. You don’t have to do it alone and it is good to know you can have a moan on the bad days to people who get it.
“It is by no means easy but there is hope and it does get easier.”
World Diabetes Day is on November 14.

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