Detecting diabetes complications early

Article from 2019/2020 Auxiliaries Annual Report

In a seaside town two hours south east of Melbourne, a passionate Auxiliary has united the community to help children and  young people living with diabetes. For over 22 years, the Inverloch Diabetic Unit Auxiliary have raised over $500,000 to support the work of the Endocrinology and Diabetes Department at the RCH.

When a child has diabetes, they cannot maintain a healthy level of glucose in their blood. This can cause serious complications throughout the body without daily care and management. The condition is for life and currently has no cure.

Auxiliary founder Kerrie Beauglehall understands this struggle after her daughter Carla was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 11 years old. The care that Carla received at the RCH inspired Kerrie to give back and help others like her daughter.

“Carla is now grown up and no longer receiving care at the RCH, but we are still actively involved in supporting the treatment and management of diabetes. It is something I could never stop,” said Kerrie.

Over the years, the Inverloch Diabetic Unit Auxiliary has fundraised by collecting donations, hosting events such as the Inverloch Dinner Dance and High Teas, and selling a range of colourful socks with the help of local businesses. All funds raised by the Auxiliary support the diabetes complication screening nurse position at the RCH. The role of the diabetes complication screening nurse is to conduct a range of tests to detect issues early and prevent serious health complications for children with diabetes.

“We have been the sole funders of the program since it began, so without our support it would not exist. Since the start of the complication screening program, complications in diabetic children has gone from 30 per cent to one per cent. That’s why we keep fundraising and the community continues to be so generous – they know that their money is making a difference and we are impacting thousands of children to ensure they have the best chance at a healthy life,” said Kerrie.

These ‘one stop shop’ appointments take only 20 minutes and provide peace of mind and convenience for patients and families on the same afternoon as their regular clinic visit. Endocrine nurse Julia McCombe has been in this role since 2017 and screens on average 400 children a year.

“I conduct blood tests for cholesterol, thyroid and coeliac disease, urine tests for kidney function and eye tests. A recent addition to the screening process is that I assess for diabetic peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage to the feet), which previously could go undetected for years. The screening time is important for education as it gives me the opportunity to reiterate how important controlling diabetes at an early age is,” said Julia.

Not only does Inverloch Diabetic Unit Auxiliary support Julia’s position, it funds equipment for the program such as a state of the art portable retina camera, improving the efficiency of the clinic and its ability to detect retinopathy.

Julia says the clinic has seen a steady increase in new diagnoses and referrals, making the complication screening program more important than ever in providing the best care to young people with diabetes.

“We are so appreciative of the support of the Inverloch Diabetic Unit Auxiliary, there is such a strong sense of community from Inverloch and we greatly value our relationship with them. The diabetes complication screening process is so vital to diabetes care and without it we wouldn’t be able to pick up possibly serious complications for our patients,” said Julia.