Coronavirus

Interview with Laura Thornton: a diabetes hero on the Coronavirus frontline

We spoke to Laura Thornton, a 28-year-old ambulance technician working on the frontline. Laura lives with type 1 diabetes and shared her story with us.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Laura Thornton, I’m 28 years old and have had type 1 diabetes for 8 years. I’ve always used injections and am currently on long acting Abasaglar and Novorapid for carbohydrate counting which works well for me after many changes and tweaks along the way.

How do you manage your type 1 diabetes?

I use a FreeStyle Libre sensor. When I became an ambulance technician, I started to fund these myself as it’s much more practical working as an ambulance technician with a sensor rather than having to finger prick constantly which wouldn’t be practical in my job. I now have these on prescription which I’m very thankful for. On average my reader tells me I scan my sensor an average of 19 times per day – I am very well controlled with a current hba1c of 61.

Life with type 1 diabetes

I was diagnosed after a traumatic event in my family and have no other family members with diabetes. I wasn’t always well controlled; I was in university when I was diagnosed and was very naive to the condition for about a year before I started really learning about my disease and learning how best to control it for me. It’s now just a part of my life which has made me a stronger person in the long run. Yes, I have had more hurdles to jump over than others, especially in getting my current job as an ambulance technician, but it has all been so worth it. It’s not something that should hold us back but push us harder to achieve our goals.

Contracting COVID-19

Yesterday marked my last day of quarantine, myself and my partner Benjamin who works as a frontline police officer have both been isolating for 2 weeks after both testing positive for COVID-19 after showing symptoms. My symptoms have been substantially worse than Ben’s and very textbook COVID-19 – starting with a dry cough and a fever.

I then experienced sore eye sockets and shooting pains in my ears, it felt like razor blades in my lungs every time I coughed, aches all over especially in my shins and neck, unbelievable headaches and lethargy beyond anything I have experienced before. I have also lost all sense of taste and smell which is unfortunate! For 2 days I experienced breathlessness but only when I exerted myself (walked to the bathroom) or lay down on my back. I then developed a chest infection which I was given antibiotics for as the virus had at this point turned bacterial, the worry then being pneumonia starting however this didn’t happen and the chest infection resolved after a week. My partner and I are both still experiencing headaches and lethargy but it comes in waves.

Right now, I’m feeling positive and looking forward to returning to my job on the frontline but thankfully have 2 weeks off from now to make sure I’m 100% recovered. I don’t know whether it was because I have type 1 diabetes that I experienced worse symptoms than my partner did, but the main thing is that we have both beaten coronavirus and are now looking forward to putting this behind us. Needless to say that being a type 1 diabetic and testing positive for COVID-19 was a scary and emotional pill to swallow but we just took it day by day. I keep myself very fit and healthy which I do believe helped me recover so well.

How did COVID-19 affect your blood glucose levels?

During this time, my blood sugars were running a little higher than normal which was to be expected with being so ill along with the additional stress. I was checking my blood sugars a lot more frequently and when I was asleep Ben would also scan me which was a huge help. I found myself taking more insulin to maintain an acceptable level but it’s never an exact science especially when we’re ill so we can’t be too hard on ourselves and stress too much over it – that just makes our sugars go higher.

When the worst few days were over, I found limiting the news channel to an hour a day and focussing on positive things which helped lower my stress levels such as painting and reading and gardening now I’m up and about. Our mental health is so important and even more so through this unprecedented time, I can’t begin to tell you how inspired and motivated I have been from the diabetic community and especially seeing all of the type 1 key workers and frontliners out there showing strength and unity.

What would you say to someone with type 1 diabetes and COVID-19?

Being a type 1 diabetic and having COVID-19 is a scary prospect and we will all react differently to this virus, diabetic or not. We are immunocompromised as diabetics so are higher risk, but we are all so different so to categorise us as one group just isn’t accurate at all. However, if we look after ourselves by controlling our sugars the best we can, staying motivated to fight this virus, staying as active and healthy as possible and allowing ourselves to not be perfect all the time then we can and will get through this.

What I would say is if you do have this virus then please stay as active as you can, as uncomfortable as it is. Breathe deeply and move and you will be doing yourself a huge favour – I did breathing exercises which hurt a lot and made me cough but really kept my lungs moving fully and prevented any congestion. Eat well and stay well hydrated and paracetamol every four hours will help the fever and the pain. Stay connected, I’ve been so lucky to have had Ben with me but my mum has been dropping our shopping of at the front door like a star and we have been in contact with family, friends and colleagues which have lifted our spirits.

How has type 1 diabetes affected your career?

Working in the ambulance service as a diabetic used to be unheard of until not so long ago, there are still very little of us out there but it’s amazing to see us defying the odds. I use my sensor all the time and always have my sensor and injections on me on shift, I check my BM before driving which takes but a second on the way to the motor. My colleagues are all fully supportive of me and as long as I maintain good control, I’ll hopefully have a long career ahead of me.

It has never held me back or hindered my abilities and hope it wouldn’t for anyone else. If my story helps 1 person in any way get through this terrible time or even motivates 1 person to fight for what they want in life, then it’s served its purpose.

Stay safe, stay protected, stay positive

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