As a former airline stewardess Amanda Grayson was trained to spot the signs of high or low blood sugar in a passenger with diabetes.

And yet when her youngest son Olly, now 13, started displaying the symptoms she initially put them down to fatigue. It’s one of the reasons why she’s so keen now to raise awareness of a condition that most have heard of but few fully understand.

She explained: “Olly had just started secondary school and in that first term we noticed he was tired but thought it was just the move to senior school. He’s also a member of the Borough of Kirklees Swimming Club and was swimming four or five times a week, training hard at Yorkshire level.”

It wasn’t until Olly, who has an older brother, Alex, complained he couldn’t see the board at school because his sight was blurring that Amanda and her husband Dorian, an architect, began to wonder if there was something wrong.

Olly also began to drink excessively and was getting up in the night to go to the toilet, which added to the fatigue.

Amanda took him to the family GP, thinking that perhaps her son had a kidney infection. The truth was far more devastating.

“She did a finger prick blood test and urine sample, diagnosed him with Type 1 diabetes and sent us straight to hospital, where the diagnosis was confirmed..

“When you get the diagnosis you go into shock,” said Amanda, “you know that it’s life changing, but you can’t take the information in.”

Type 1 differs from Type 2 in that sufferers are unable to produce the hormone insulin, which is needed for the body to break down carbohydrates.

Wish Campaign 2013: Children’s Diabetes Team raising funds for weekend away  

In Type 2, which used to be known as age-onset diabetes, the body still produces insulin, but not enough, or it doesn’t work properly.

Amanda knew about Type 2 because her late mum had the condition. Around 90% of diabetics have Type 2.

She explained: “There is a vast difference between an elderly person with Type 2 and a young, active child with Type 1, but they are both bunched together and a lot of people don’t understand the difference.”

Of the 400,000 people in the UK with Type 1 diabetes, 29,000 are under 18.

It is estimated that a child diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of five faces as many as 19,000 insulin injections and 50,000 finger prick tests before the age of 18. Most people with Type 2 don’t develop symptoms until the age of 40 or older.

Today, Olly tests his blood sugar levels up to 15 times a day and wears an insulin pump. He still swims and plays sport, but both he and his parents have to be extraordinarily vigilant in managing the condition.

“People think that if you are diabetic you just have to take insulin and that’s that,” said Amanda, “but it’s a lot more complicated.”

Members of the Grayson family, who live in the Holme Valley, have encountered a steep learning curve in the past couple of years.  However, they have the support of the nursing team at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary as well as other parents.

It is through the diabetic nursing team parents’ support network that Amanda was introduced to Jo Thrush, from Brighouse, whose son Jack Grady, 13, also has Type 1 diabetes. They have become the best of friends, as have their boys.

Jack’s story is similar to Olly’s. His mum explained: “In autumn 2011 we started noticing that Jack was very tired and not wanting to socialise. I was worrying that he might have been bullied at school and I knew there was something not right.

“He started losing weight and he was guzzling food and drinking gallons of water from the bathroom tap.

“I made an appointment at the doctors. I thought I was going to sound ridiculous. I didn’t know anything about diabetes.

“But Jack was diagnosed there and then and admitted straight to hospital.”

Jo, a business analyst, whose husband Jamie is an IT consultant, describes her feelings at the diagnosis as a form of grief.

She said: “You go from having a healthy child with no medical conditions to having one with a life-threatening condition. They (medical staff) have to tell you everything straight away. They are giving you insulin pens and sending nurses to see you. You are completely overwhelmed because their life has changed forever.”

As well as learning to cope with the condition, Amanda and Jo say that families also discover there is still a degree of ignorance about diabetes.

“People think they’ve been eating too much chocolate or it’s related to obesity,” said Jo, who also has a son, Harry, 11. “You get asked when they are going to get better, but it’s not something you get better from.”

Both boys have been fitted with insulin pumps, a relatively new piece of technology available to patients in this area. Amanda says it’s a postcode lottery as to whether someone with diabetics can have a pump. “We are fortunate in Calderdale and Kirklees to have excellent paediatric diabetes care,” added Amanda.

The device, attached 24/7 to the body through a cannula, has a separate blood glucose monitor, which sends information to the pump by a Bluetooth radio signal, ensuring it delivers the correct amount of insulin direct into the user’s bloodstream.

“It is,” says Amanda, “a bit like an artificial pancreas (the organ that produces insulin) and helps to give the boys every chance of living a normal, healthy lifespan.”

Whenever the boys eat or drink they do a pin-prick test to establish their blood sugar levels and programme the carbohydrate content of what they are consuming into the device.

Both families are involved with the work of the Juvenile Diabetic Research Foundation, which has funded the development of many milestones in the treatment of diabetes, including the creation of genetically- engineered human insulin back in the 1980s.  Before that animal insulin was used to treat people.

In the first year after diagnosis, normal life for the boys was put on hold. Neither went on school trips or sleepovers; Olly was initially unable to swim, but then slowly re-introduced sport; their parents lived (and still do) in fear of a hypoglycaemic or hyperglycaemic attack. But in that time they learned how to manage the condition and how to adjust insulin levels for exercise, hot weather, illnesses and all the many factors that can affect diabetes.

Olly, a pupil at Silcoates School in Wakefield, is an ambassador for the JDRF, which aims to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes in the community. The fact that he still swims competitively makes him a role model for those with diabetes, who are often afraid of exercise because it has such an impact on insulin levels. Jack, who attends Brighouse High, has played a part in the creation of an information DVD about diabetes for schools in Calderdale and Huddersfield.

Olly Grayson at the Stadium Swimming Pool
Olly Grayson at the Stadium Swimming Pool

Two years on and both boys have adjusted to life with diabetes. But they know that theirs is a different life from that of their peers, which is one of the reasons why they value each other’s friendship so much and enjoy attending support group activities.

“Other people at school say they understand about diabetes,” says Jack, “but they don’t. It’s good to be with someone else who ‘gets’ it.”

There are 180 children and young people with Type 1 diabetes in the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust area.

The causes of Type 1, which can begin in early childhood, are as yet not fully understood. It is thought that the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the body having an abnormal reaction to the cells. This may be triggered by a virus or other infection.

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can arise rapidly and early diagnosis is important.  Parents should watch out for children who start to exhibit the following:

Extreme thirst

Tiredness, no energy

Frequent urination

Blurred vision

Type 1 diabetes is currently nor curable, but it can be treated and those with the condition today can expect to live a full life.

Cutting edge research, funded by organisations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, is looking into the development of a vaccine that could help people at high risk of developing Type 1.

Huddersfield has a parents’ support group for children living with diabetes that organises activities and outings. For details contact Layla Twigger at

The first person ever to have an insulin injection was a boy called Leonard Thompson. Ninety years ago he was given insulin taken from the pancreas of a dog. For many years people with Type 1 diabetes were given insulin from pigs and cows. Today the hormone is laboratory manufactured.

Olympic athelete Sir Steve Redgrave thought his rowing career was over when he discovered he had diabetes in 1997. But he learned to manage his condition so effectively that he went on to win his fifth gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.