diabetes

Northern Ireland teenager using Olympic dream to improve type 1 diabetes management

A teenager with type 1 diabetes from Northern Ireland who is training as a decathlete has eyes on one day winning an Olympic gold medal.

Ryan Nixon-Stewart (pictured), 15, was diagnosed five years ago, and despite struggling with his diagnosis at the time, he has now learnt to manage the condition alongside his mother Sharon.

A key development in Ryan’s type 1 diabetes management occurred two years ago when he joined Lisburn Athletics Club, which helped him fine tune his blood sugar levels in order to perform at his best.

Both Sharon and Ryan are from County Down, and Sharon admits that initially, Ryan found it hard to inject and test his blood sugar regularly, which people with type 1 diabetes have to do multiple times every day.

“Ryan, as like so many teens, rebelled against his diabetes,” Sharon told The Irish News. “He once said that he would rather die than have to live like this.

“He didn’t want that burden, he didn’t ask for it and he certainly didn’t do anything to get diagnosed with it. As a result, he self-harmed by misusing his insulin and an uncertain time came to pass.”

Ryan’s focus on his athletics career served as a turning point. “He is doing so much better and has accepted what he needs to do to stay healthy and fit,” added Sharon.

Decathlon is one of the toughest athletic events, which involves competing in 10 different track and field events, and hypoglycemia is a regular concern for Ryan.

He has to regulate his food intake every hour depending on how much insulin he has taken, what he has eaten, and what his blood sugar is at the time.

“We have to think about it and be aware of his condition all day long, every day. I don’t think that parents who don’t have a child with type 1 diabetes really understand it,” Sharon says.

Ryan has tested his blood sugar levels every two hours since he was diagnosed. He uses an Abbott FreeStyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system, but this is not available to Sharon on the NHS and it costs the family £53 for each sensor, which lasts for up to 14 days.

But while things can be challenging for Sharon and her family, she says she “can only imagine how tough it was for Ryan”, and is immensely proud that her son’s dedication to sport has coincided with his improved diabetes management.

We all wish you the best of luck with your training, Ryan!

For more information on athletics or playing other sports with diabetes, visit our Diabetes and Sport section. You could also check out the Diabetes Forum, which has forum threads for children with diabetes and for parents of children with diabetes.

Picture: The Irish Times

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