Youngsters Tommy and Sophie have a bond like no other as they have supported each other through their journey with diabetes. Their friendship was formed following the emergency care they both received at Sheffield Children’s.
Four-year-old Tommy Lipski and three-year-old Sophie Underwood both required critical care at the Emergency Department at Sheffield Children’s Hospital: Sophie in 2017 and Tommy 14 months later, with serious complications from type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system mistakes the cells in your pancreas as harmful and attacks them.
The children are now supporting each other by comparing their insulin pumps, blood sugar levels and of course sharing sweets. They are also determined to say thank you for their care by fundraising for The Children’s Hospital Charity.
Tommy and Sophie were admitted to the Emergency Department at Sheffield Children’s Hospital after suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis. The condition occurs when the body starts to run out of insulin, causing harmful substances called ketones to build up in the body. It can be life-threatening if not spotted and treated quickly.
For both children, their admission to the Emergency Department was also the first time they had their diabetes diagnosis confirmed, following a blood gas test.
Sophie’s mum Sarah recalls: “She appeared extremely tired, but her condition deteriorated throughout the day. Our GP referred her to Sheffield Children’s for laboured breathing. When we arrived, she was taken into the resuscitation room. At that point, Sophie became unresponsive, she was critically ill.”
Sophie was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit and then onto the High Dependency Unit, before her condition was stable enough to be moved onto a ward.
When Tommy was diagnosed his mum Jessica recalls: “He was constantly tired, lost his appetite and complained his legs were very painful. One morning, I took him back to the GP who sent him for blood tests.
“Later that evening, an out-of-hours doctor alerted us that Tommy’s blood glucose levels were dangerously high, and he needed taking to the Emergency Department.
“I didn’t appreciate the gravity of his condition was at the time- I could see it was serious from the speed of the treatment he was receiving, but I was just focusing on comforting Tommy.”
After several hours in the Emergency Department, Tommy’s condition stabilised and he was transferred onto a ward. At this point, families are introduced to the Diabetes Team at Sheffield Children’s, which cares for around 2,400 patients across South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire each year. It also deals with almost 300 admissions for children with serious complications for diabetic ketoacidosis.
For children with type 1 diabetes, everyday eating and drinking require constant counting for carbohydrates, with insulin doses adjusted for every child. Insulin levels are also adjusted if blood sugar levels are running too high or low.
Normal activities including exercise, attending parties and going out for meals also pose their own challenges, while holidays require extra planning for insulin storage.
Jessica continues: “Diabetes is unpredictable, one day something can work perfectly and the next day can be completely different. The care is phenomenal; the team have been a huge source of support from the day of diagnosis. They truly care, not just for the children, but for their families too.”
Shortly after their discharge from hospital, both Mums met at a local support group for parents of children with diabetes, with Tommy and Sophie quickly forming a lasting friendship.
“We try to meet regularly, not only because they’re friends but also to remind them they are not alone in this journey and they have someone who can truly understand how they feel” Jessica acknowledges.
“As parents, we try our best to understand how they feel and always do our best to care for them, but it’s not the same as having support from someone who is also going through what you’re going through.”
Tommy and Sophie enjoy showing each other where they are wearing their insulin pumps and sensor for their glucose monitors. They compare blood sugar levels and happily share sweets to make sure they’re both stable, as both continue to learn more about their condition.
“We try to keep as much normality as possible and make sure they know they can do everything their friends and family do; that even though it is more complicated, diabetes won’t define them.”
Tommy and Sophie also aim to raise £1,000 for The Children’s Hospital Charity this year to say thank you. As well as holding a raffle, they have organised a coffee morning next month while Tommy is also selling his toys and books to help.
Sarah adds: “Sophie and Tommy make us proud every single day, they take everything in their stride. To be working together to try and help other children in their situation just makes us admire them even more.”