'We thought it was a bug' - Parents issue warning after 'healthy' teen (15) struck with shock illness
The family of a 15-year-old Co Antrim girl who could have died after being stricken by a dangerous diabetic condition are calling for more awareness over the threat posed by the disease.
Alex McKnight's mum Gayle Doherty (36) thought her sporty, otherwise healthy daughter, was simply suffering from a stomach bug when she began drinking large quantities of water and vomiting.
However, on February 16 the Belfast Royal Academy student was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a complication faced by diabetics that occurs when the body starts running out of insulin.
The disorder causes harmful substances - ketones - to build up in the body, which can be life-threatening if not spotted and treated quickly.
The condition can cause swelling on the brain, leading to brain damage.
Now back home, Alex and her family are adapting to life with type 1 diabetes, and are thankful that the ordeal has not left the teenager with serious, permanent damage.
"For a few weeks Alex had been saying she was thirsty and running to the toilet, but because she was a healthy girl we didn't think anything of it," Gayle said.
"Her dad took her to the doctor's for something else last Tuesday and mentioned her symptoms, but the doctor couldn't get a reading on the blood glucose monitor.
"They didn't seem too concerned, as she was young and healthy, and they booked her in to get the test done the following Thursday. Then she felt more and more unwell over the next few hours. On the Friday she was at my dad's house and she was so ill she kept saying she was really thirsty and couldn't stop drinking, but then she bringing it back up.
"We thought it was a bug, but a neighbour who is a paramedic told my dad to phone an ambulance and they got her to A&E. She was in the high dependency unit for four hours."
Gayle received a phone call to say her daughter had been rushed to hospital, but said she initially didn't realise how serious the situation was.
"They kept her in A&E until she stabilised, and all her readings were so bad - they said they were the worst readings they had ever seen," she said.
"When they tried to get a reading the machinery was coming up saying 'error', as the readings were so high.
"They were worried about swelling on her brain and the potential for brain damage if they couldn't get her back to normal.
"They said it was life-threatening. We were frantic with worry."
Alex was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis, which her family had never heard of. "We were told that Alex had type 1 diabetes, which came as a shock as she is very active and loves water polo and swimming," Gayle added.
"She has her school's honours tie for sport and is about to get the school honours blazer for sport.
"You have these stereotypes where you think people with diabetes must have a bad diet, but that's not always the case - some people just can't make insulin."
They now face a "learning curve" to cope with the condition.
"Alex will have to do three injections a day and one at night to stabilise her blood sugar," she said. "She will have to be very good with her diet - this has scared her.
"She is hoping to get back to school next week and start getting back to normal.
"I think that there needs to be more awareness that this can happen to healthy people, and I would like to see kids being given information talks in school."
Gayle said the family have started a complaints procedure against the doctor's surgery for what they claim was a failure to act with urgency over Alex's symptoms.
"They had rescheduled the appointment as they didn't feel it was urgent," Gayle continued.
"If we had waited, Alex would be dead."