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Having a 4-year-old with type 1 diabetes involves the entire family – often over generations. For Aidan Gardner’s parents, their decades of experience have been a blessing in disguise.

For Anthony and Tamika Gardner, diabetes is present across both sides of the family: from grandparents and parents to siblings – and now their 4-year-old son Aidan.

When Aidan became lethargic and lost his appetite altogether, his parents initially suspected a flu or stomach bug. When his symptoms continued after being sent home from two hospitals, they strongly suspected what the problem was.

“Finally, someone at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital listened to us,” says Anthony. “His HBA1c and sugars were elevated a bit, but not a lot. We knew what we were looking for. While they’d never seen anyone at such an early stage of diabetes, our knowledge helped us. Anything could have happened to him – so we’re pretty lucky.”

At 3½, Aidan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Like any parent, Anthony’s first reaction was guilt. “Growing up with it, I knew what it was going to be like. It was guilt and fear for the unknown – and the known too.” While the process has taken a while for everyone to get used to, now the Gardner family works together as a team to support Aidan and give him reassurance every day.

 “We’ve got to monitor every single thing that goes in his mouth,” says Anthony.

“Whether it’s lunch, dinner, snacks, or drinks. We adjust his insulin levels via the pump. Constant blood tests. If the sugars are, up, ketone checks. When he’s out at parties, we’ve got to be careful of what he eats. We’ve got to watch him like a hawk.”

From getting up 1–4 times a night to check his blood sugar to responding quickly to texts from his childcare, Tamika is ‘on call’ for her son. “I won’t be able to continue on with my day until I know everything’s all right,” she says. While it’s a round-the-clock responsibility, she sees that the family working together makes all the difference. “To have us working as a team and being happy and confident rubs off on him. As bad as diabetes can be, it is manageable. We’re all aware of that and make the best of it.”

When looking for help and advice, Anthony cautions others against looking for health advice on Google or social media that tend to throw up the ‘worst-case scenarios’. Having lived with  type 1 diabetes a long time, his store of knowledge comes from different sources. He lists endocrinologists, diabetes educators, doctors, and his father-in-law as his reliable sources of information, with his now lifetime of experience serving as the strongest guide. “After 30 years of experience, we’ve been told by numerous people: ‘We can’t teach you guys any more than what you already know.’”

“We’re there for each other. We communicate, we talk, we vent, we yell, we cry, but we do it together because we’re a team.”

Over that time, Anthony has seen how the changes in technology and approach has changed overwhelmingly. “Over the last 5–10 years I’ve seen a lot of changes in how they treat diabetes – for the good. Aidan’s on the pump, but I’m still on injections. In a lot of respects, we know what’s in store for him: foot doctors, eye doctors, GPs, endocrinologists. I can teach him and warn him a lot.”

As well as helping Aidan, the Gardners want to increase awareness of diabetes, both for their own family and the broader community.

Not many people understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 – and diabetes in general. It can be very hard.

With Aidan in hospital recently, they emphasise how awareness can make all the difference to his treatment – even within the health system. “As soon as you mention a 4-year-old type 1 on a pump, no one really knows much about it,” says Tamika. “You go into hospital – he’s only 4! – and you end up being the one helping them. Not many people understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 – and diabetes in general. It can be very hard.”

With Aidan in childcare, Tamika and Anthony need to know that there is someone there who is aware of it, who knows how to treat a hypo or hyper or use his pump. Even when playing at other kids’ houses, other parents need to be careful to ensure they don’t give him the wrong food. "She’ll be right’ doesn’t work with diabetes!” says Anthony. “A simple thing like a lollipop can completely stuff him up for the rest of the day.”

Tamika and Anthony urge other parents in the same position to persevere and create good support systems around them. “It gets hard – really hard", says Tamika. “But you can’t give up. You’ve got to remember who you’re doing it for. If you’ve got good support around you, you will be fine. We’re there for each other. We communicate, we talk ,we vent, we yell we scream, we cry, but we do it together cause we’re a team.”

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