Tony Kelly, Diabetes UK Community Champion and Expert by Experience for NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, has recently spent nearly four weeks in Canada conducting a series of diabetes awareness training workshops amongst the black community.
Wearing my Diabetes UK fleece to Heathrow airport, and towing Diabetes UK pens, badges, wristbands and other booklets I was ready to embark on a four week trip to Canada to help educate and raise awareness about type 2 diabetes!
During my wait in the airport lounge I met two different people who told me about their diabetes stories. I was approached by a Canadian couple and the husband told me that he too has had diabetes for several years, which is now under control following some lifestyle and dietary changes. I was pleased to tell him that following my diagnosis 15 years ago, I am also managing my condition well through diet and physical activity and never taken medication.
The other meeting occurred when we were both stopped going through the security checkpoints. Noticing my Diabetes UK merchandise within my hand luggage, the other passenger told me that he regularly got stopped on his travels because of his type 1 diabetes as he carries insulin needles and medicine in his bag.
During my trip, it became clear to me that Britain is truly leading the way with diabetes outreach work and programmes via the Community Champions; at my talks in Canada, attendees pointed out that Community Champions and Ambassadors rarely play a prominent role in the delivery of health and wellbeing messages due to worries around litigation. As this is something which I am familiar with, I explained that I always provide a disclaimer that I am not a health professional and that I am talking from a patient perspective with years of experience, and I’m supported by Diabetes UK approved slides. I always try my best to tell my audience that getting the message across to diverse communities is a real passion of mine –including the blind/sight impaired, deaf/hearing impaired and in particular but not exclusively African-Caribbean and Asian communities.
After giving my various talks and answering questions, I took the opportunity to give out my Diabetes UK merchandise – this was a great way to get the word out and raise awareness about the medical condition. If I was able to attract the attention of two people in a couple of hours at the airport wearing my Diabetes UK fleece, imagine how much awareness could be raised with a Diabetes UK tote bag, a Diabetes UK rucksack or Diabetes UK t-shirt!
When I wasn’t offering talks to the diabetes community, I would do physical activity by walking around a three-mile lake, and taking the stairs where I could instead of elevators and escalators. I also had a chance to visit Alliston, Ontario, the birthplace of Sir Frederick Banting, who discovered the process of synthetic insulin. It was truly inspiring to be walking on the site where such an important medical discovery was made in 1921 and really puts into perspective how far we’ve come.
With the right mind-set, discipline, motivation and determination, it is possible to manage diabetes well.