With Barbadian diabetes rates at double the global average, the Diabetes Association of Barbados announced a drive to educate more people about the chronic disease and offer support to those already affected by it.
And as part of the education effort, a young national spokeswoman will be deployed to schools with her personal story of dealing with the illness.
As the association briefed the media on its plans for 2020, president of the Diabetes Association of Barbados, Dr Trudy Griffith said: “We are well aware of the rates of obesity in Barbados, which are above the global average. Therefore, the risk of diabetes is higher.
“Globally it is one in 11 people, but in Barbados it is one in five, meaning we are double the global average, and for everyone we know who has diabetes, there is another one who does not know.
“So what we are seeing in Barbados may be the tip of the tsunami that diabetes will eventually cause in this country”.
Diabetes Ambassador Melissa Goodman outlined her experience with Type 1 diabetes, where the body does not produce enough insulin or does not produce any at all.
She said: “When I was diagnosed I was 16 years old and I did not know anything about diabetes.
“It was a shocker to me because I was just living my life as normal, doing everything I needed to do, playing basketball, netball, I modelled, and I was eating healthy and drinking water regularly, so it was unexpected and it ‘crashed’ me.”
She described the symptoms she was experiencing which led to her diagnosis when she was still a student at the Princess Margaret Secondary School.
“My mother was off one day and I was going out with the school as I was deputy headgirl and my body felt so weak.
“I was feeling helpless, I didn’t want to move, I felt a change in my body but did not know what it was, I was losing weight, passing water all the time, I had diarrhoea, and I found myself drinking a lot of water from the tap which i was not accustomed to. I didn’t really think about it because I had chikungunya at the time and that is what flared it up.
“My mother took me to the clinic and they gave me an injection, then she took me to a pharmacy with a private doctor next door, and a friend of my mother’s told her, ‘Shari, she looks like she is going into shock!’
“So we went to the doctor’s office and the first thing the doctor did was check my urine and my sugar levels were 28 and rising!
“Since my mother did not know what diabetes was, she took me home, gave me a bottled water and I felt a little better, then my mother made me a soup, and gave me Powerade, Lucozade and those other energy drinks.
“But it escalated from there and my mother started to panic, then at one point she went to lie down for a while and when she got up my eyes were rolling into the back of my head.”
Goodman, who attended a training summit put on by the Young Leaders in Diabetes division of the International Diabetes Federation in South Korea last November, said that meeting gave her the incentive to tell her story and let other patients know they were not alone as they faced the vagaries of their condition.
“We spoke about how we were first diagnosed, and talked about everything related to diabetes and how we were treated.
“We all made sure that we covered each others backs. One session I remember focused on storytelling, and when they started to tell me about that, I saw so many ideas flashing and coming to my mind and I told myself, ‘Melissa, when you get home you have to make a difference,’ so I messaged my uncle and told him that I have so many ideas and plans that I have to execute when I get home, and he told me once you have your head on you can do it. The association then reassured me that they would support my endeavours.”
Goodman will be going out to schools to share her story with the students and allow them to share their experiences as well if they have any, she said. The association also said it started a support group for young adults with Type 1 diabetes.
While acknowledging the establishment of a Type 1 diabetes registry by the Barbados Diabetes Foundation in 2017, Dr Griffith said a registry of Type 2 diabetics was of equal importance.
She said: “We need a registry for Type 2 as well, not only to monitor how they are faring with the condition, but in the case of a natural disaster, you will know who needs to be prioritised in trerms of getting help.
“All too often we tend to focus on the medications when it comes to a chronic disease and think this is the sum total of it, but the first thing should be, ‘How are you handling it psychologically, how are you processing the information given to you,’ especially in the case of Type 1, which you have to deal with for the rest of your life?
“You need regular doctor visits, to have your organ systems checked out, because if diabetes is not controlled, your eyes, heart, brain, kidneys and feet are at risk, and we are well aware of the complications of uncontrolled diabetes in Barbados.”