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Featured student of the month – Gemma Wells

Posted 1 November 2013

Having type 1 diabetes can be quite isolating. Just because you can’t see the illness doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult for sufferers.

21-year-old Gemma Wells

Animal Behaviour and Welfare student, Gemma Wells, is hoping to establish a support group in the midlands for those that that like her, live with the challenges of type 1 diabetes.

The 21-year-old from Telford was first diagnosed with the autoimmune disease when she was nine-years-old, and has since required four daily insulin injections in order to stay alive.

Gemma, a former Walford College student, is working hard to raise public awareness of the condition and how she manages it whilst studying at Harper Adams University.

She said: “Many people don't know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and quite how much hard work goes in to keeping yourself well.

“As a type 1 diabetic, my own body has destroyed the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It is not a preventable disease, and is not as a result of a person's lifestyle.
 
“People are mainly aware of type 2 diabetes, which is an epidemic across the world and made aware through media coverage. Much of its onset is the result of bodyweight, fitness and lifestyle. You cannot reverse or prevent type 1 by doing lots of exercise or eating carefully.”

On initial diagnosis, Gemma was concerned that being diabetic could hold her back, but instead she has found that it hasn’t prevented her from achieving what she wants, even though it can be a daily struggle.

Even so, she has to attend many hospital appointments and never has a true break from her illness.

Gemma, who is currently a second year student, added: “There is no cure, it takes up a lot of time and energy, and sometimes I can be quite poorly and end up in hospital.

“It is important that I don’t become too stressed as anxiety can cause my blood sugars to rise, which is known as Hyperglycemia. This makes it hard to concentrate and I feel generally unwell. Often this comes at exam time!

“Now I’m hoping to establish a support group for adolescents and adults with type 1 diabetes, using a Facebook page to arrange meetings and social events.

“I want to do this because having type 1 diabetes can be quite isolating. Just because you can’t see the illness doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult for sufferers.”

Once she has her degree under her belt, Gemma hopes to pursue a career working with assistance or therapy dogs. In particular, those that have been trained to detect if a person’s blood sugar levels are too low.

Gemma, who starts evening classes in counselling at Stafford College in January, added: “Illness can cause depression and animals are extremely therapeutic. I chose to come to Harper Adams because it is my local university and it has an extremely good reputation.

“I was anxious at first, but I’ve found that there is a good mix of people from different backgrounds and that they are supportive and interested in my illness.

“I just want people to know that illness doesn’t stop you or hold you back from achieving what you want to in life.”

The main symptoms of type 1 diabetes are:
  *   Passing urine more often than usual, especially at night
  *   Increased thirst
  *   Extreme tiredness
  *   Unexplained weight loss
  *   Slow healing of cuts and wounds
  *   Blurred vision

Visit Diabetes UK for more information.

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