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'Doctors told us our little girl was pretty lucky to make it through the night' Caitlin and Olivia have type 1 diabetes. GREG TINDLE spoke about life coping long-term Thomas both to the family with the condition...


LITTLE Caitlin Thomas was just 14 months old when her mum and dad noticed all was not well with their daughter.

It appeared nothing serious, but the toddler had lost her sparkle and was losing weight.

But within two weeks the lives of Wyn Thomas and partner Emma Addis were turned upside down as they watched Caitlin facing death, hooked up to hospital monitors with tubes going into her small body and on a ventilator to help her breathe.

Those 14 days are stuck in the memory of the couple after Caitlin was eventually diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during a nerve-wracking bedside vigil. But after going through this trauma, Wyn and Emma were hit by a cruel twist of fate when four years later their second daughter Olivia was also affected with the same condition.

Once diagnosed, type 1 diabetics have to inject the hormone insulin for the rest of their lives, not only to remain healthy but simply stay alive. Without insulin the body's vital organs would fail.

Wyn and Emma's daily lives now revolve around keeping eight-year-old Caitlin and four-year-old Olivia's medication up to date with two jabs each and four daily blood checks. For any outings, even a trip to the shops, they must ensure they have their medical kit bag with them just in case the girls take a turn for the worse.

But Wyn, 33, who gave up his engineering job at RAF St Athan to look after Caitlin, cannot forget the days that led up to the medical drama which unfolded over two weeks and began with a trip to their local GP.

"She'd started to lose weight and was drinking and wee-ing a lot. The GP told us it was probably a virus but to keep an eye on her. We asked if it could be diabetes as there is a bit of history of this in the family, but he said probably not and gave her some antibiotics."

Within a few days the couple realised nothing had improved. Wyn said: "If anything, it got worse, she seemed lifeless, not wanting to play and sleeping far more than normal. The wee-ing got to such a stage that at night her nappy was saturated and her bed was soaked through. We would change the bedding, but she was parched, drinking half a pint of milk or juice in one go."

Starting to get more worried, the doctor's surgery asked for a urine sample, but this came back negative. A few days later the couple called an out-of-hours GP as Caitlin was floppy, clinging on and not focusing on anything going on around her.

"The doctor wasn't happy and told us to take her straight to A&E at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital where they took tests and within two or three hours we were told it was diabetes. We later learned she was very ill, her body and vital organs were shutting down."

A special team was summoned to the Royal Glamorgan from the children's wards at Cardiff's University Hospital of Wales and Caitlin was whisked by ambulance into the hospital's High Dependency Unit. "At the time the doctors told us she was seriously ill and we were panicking.

It was only later they told us that if we hadn't called the out-of-hours doctor she wouldn't have survived the night. We were shocked at just how quickly it all happened."

Caitlin remained unconscious in the HDU for four days as doctors successfully brought her organs back into working order and then after another week in hospital the couple returned to their home in Pontygwaith, near Ferndale, Rhondda. A relieved Wyn and Emma, 36, an insurance office worker, were then left on their own for the first time to make sure Caitlin had her daily injections.

"We had been given some training in hospital, using an orange to practice on which is supposed to be similar to the body. I think I gave Caitlin her first jab, it was in the arm and she didn't like it, but within a week of leaving hospital she was back to her normal self, into everything and putting on weight."

Over the years the youngster has grown to accept she needs two injections every day and has now learned to check her own blood sugar levels by pricking her finger and analysing it.

"She's not quite made the step of giving herself the injections, but we hope this will happen sometime later this year. When she can do this she can take part in sleep-overs at friends' houses or go on camping trips."

Because of their experience with Caitlin, Wyn and Emma avoided similar dramas with daughter Olivia and she was speedily diagnosed when they noticed in just two days that she was drinking more than normal.

"She was 18 months old and we called the hospital and they told us to bring her in where she was checked over by the diabetic team and we were told straight away that she had type 1 diabetes.

"We were again shocked and asked if this was hereditary. The doctors told us it wasn't, but it was rare to have two children in this situation and it is constantly on our minds.

"But apart from the diabetes they are normal children, bright and lively. Caitlin takes part in karate and kick boxing and only recently took part in a one-mile swim.

"There are times when they are sick and this has to be watched very carefully in case their blood sugar gets too low and they have spent a few nights in hospital until these are balanced.

"Of course we would have preferred them not to have this form of diabetes, but that's what has happened and we must all get on with our lives," said Wyn.

TYPE 1 AND TYPE 2 DIABETES REVEALED * More than 63,000 people have been diagnosed with diabetes in south east Wales, an increase of more than 3,000 in the last year. A further 12,600 people have the condition but do not yet know it.

* The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 happens when the body stops producing any insulin and accounts for about 10% of cases. It is treated with insulin injections and is usually diagnosed before the age of 40. is a 3% chance of a y being born with type 1 If this happens there 10% chance of a second also having the condition.

gnosed * There baby diabetes. is a sibling tion. * Ty when enough ype 2 diabetes happens hen the body stops producing insulin or when the insulin it produces doesn't work properly. It is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 40, or 25 for people of South Asian or black origin. It is treated by diet, tablets or insulin injections.

* Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include being overweight, having high blood pressure and having a close relative with the condition.

Another risk factor, which makes people up to 12 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, is having a waist of 37 inches or more for men, or 35 for South Asian men, or 31.5 inches for women.

* Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, extreme tiredness, weight loss, blurred vision, genital itching and going to the toilet to pass urine frequently, particularly at night. * Diabetes UK Cymru provides support, advice and information to people with diabetes and funds research into the condition.

The charity also runs voluntary groups which provide support to people living with the condition. For more information call Diabetes UK Cymru on 029 2066 8276 or email


Wyn Thomas and partner Emma Addis with Caitlin, left, and Olivia. Right, the medical kit the family have to take everywhere PICTURE: Patrick Olner
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 23, 2009
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