Damien McLeod on Being a Father of a Child with Type 1 Diabetes

One of our special ENDIA dads, Damian McLeod, wrote to us about what it is like being the father of a child living with type 1 diabetes. Damien’s beautiful letter will go straight to the heart of any parent.

“Julian was our first child. I remember the overwhelming sense of pride the day he was born. As he was our first, he was spoilt rotten with love and attention. He was the perfect excuse to put things off and waste time with. I immediately loved being a father and having the opportunity to teach him all sorts of things and watch him learn and grow. At no point did I think, like any other normal parent, that my child would get sick.

Julian was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on July 5th, 2013 at the age of 22 months and just like his birth, I remember the day he was diagnosed like it was yesterday.

The week leading up to his diagnosis, Julian was feeling a little under the weather. He was a bit grizzly and generally feeling flat, requiring lots of cuddles. It wasn’t until he went off his food and then quickly off fluids that we realised something wasn’t right. We took him straight to The Women’s and Children’s Hospital and was given the diagnosis shortly after. In that moment I felt completely helpless and to be honest, afraid. I distinctly remembered questioning the diagnosis as this couldn’t be happening to my child… “It only happens to other people”. Tears poured down my face as I hugged my sick little boy. He was very quickly moved into the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and connected to what I thought was every cable and line that they had available.

After a long night, Julian came to and in that moment became our little boy again. The transformation was incredible. I remember him running up and down the ward laughing and playing, not exactly how a ‘sick’ child behaves.

Following the diagnosis, there was a very steep learning curve. Call it information overload, if you will. With this newly attained information came more questions. Why him? Why us? What brought it on? What could we have done differently? Could we have prevented it? Will he be normal? What life will he live? Will he be able to play sport?

The initial support was nothing short of amazing. The doctors and nurses were fantastic. They were all very understanding and patient. One thing I had to learn very quickly was to draw insulin and administer it. Every time I did, I would freeze. I hated doing it and so did Julian. But it did get easier and Julian learnt very quickly that it was a necessary part of his life.

Fast forward to the present day and managing Julian’s diabetes has become second nature. He has now had it longer than he hasn’t and it is hard to remember a time when he didn’t have it. Moving to a pump in March 2014 made things a lot easier and maintained his levels. We are more adventurous with his foods and our knowledge of foods and carb content is getting more extensive. Julian tests his own BGL and is becoming familiar with what it feels like to be low and high and being able to notify us.

As a father, I worry about Julian. I can’t help it. I only want what’s best for him. I worry when someone else has him in their care, when he is at kindy, even when he is sleeping. He has grown up very quickly and I know that he is gaining a good understanding of diabetes, but I’m still his father. I worry, so he doesn’t have to.

In all of this, diabetes does actually have some positives. Julian learnt to count to five at a very young age. He is able to read and somewhat understand decimals. He knows not to be disrespectful. And he is part of diabetes trials with ENDIA and a PhD candidate at my university to help find a cure.

Julian thinks being ‘bionic’ is cool. He loves being part human and part machine. Indeed, the whole family has gained special powers: the ability to weigh food just by looking at it, and complete percentages and work out carb content without thinking.

Along the way, we have met some wonderful people. It is the people you meet and the medical staff who help you along the way that makes a huge difference. Being part of ENDIA with our two younger children gives us the opportunity to give something back. It is a win-win situation. We are able to help find a cure and Felicity and Gabriel are being monitored by some of the best minds in medical research.

As a father, I could not be any prouder of Julian. He is thoughtful, caring and loves having a laugh. It has been a lot for a young child to deal with and I marvel at the way he just gets on with his life. He knows he is different from other children, but I do not treat him differently. He is off to school next year and I believe that he will blossom within that environment.

I have a normal, everyday boy who enjoys playing footy, cricket, actually anything sport that involves a ball, swimming, riding his bike and going out to the footy, Bunnings or wherever with his Dad. The only difference is, he has type 1 diabetes. And it is only diabetes….. I say this because of the conversations I had with other parents in PICU the night of his diagnosis. Those conversations put a great deal into perspective that night and still to this day. I have a wonderful and healthy boy who is growing up just like every other kid and I know he has a strong future.

How proud I am to be able to call Julian my son.” (September 2016)