Nkiruka Vivian Okoro

United Kingdom
The love from my family and my determination to conquer diabetes through understanding the condition has been the driving force to better health.

How long have you been living with diabetes?

I have been living with type 1 diabetes for 33 years.

How were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed after being in a coma for 24 hours. My doctor detected ketones from my breath.

Did your diagnosis come as a surprise to you?

It came as a huge surprise to my family and I. Little was known about type 1 diabetes in Nigeria at the time. Diabetes was generally considered a condition that affected older people. My family actually thought that I had been the victim of black magic from my village.

How did your diagnosis affect your family or loved ones?

It changed my whole family so much. The first three years were very difficult. My diet did not include any carbohydrates, I mostly ate vegetables, black-eyed beans and unripe plantains, prepared in various ways. I was very skinny, generally felt ill and experienced both hypoglycaemic coma and DKA. I was very depressed and never wanted to go out. However, I had very good family support. My whole family decided to eat the same meals as me to make me happy.

I dreaded the daily insulin injections. They were so painful as I was taught to make sure that the whole needle went in. I was in constant pain. The love from my family and my determination to conquer diabetes through understanding the condition has been the driving force to better health.

What are the most important things that have supported your diabetes care?

The most important has been diabetes education. This has impacted so positively on my overall self-management. Secondly, the introduction of a multiple dose insulin regimen and carbohydrate counting has taken my management to a better place. Most of the secondary complications that I developed as a young girl have not progressed as a result of my better understanding of diabetes care and management. My mantra is "If you understand diabetes, diabetes will understand you."

What has living with diabetes taught you the most?

Diabetes has taught me so much. I have a better understanding of insulin to carbohydrate ratio, how to calculate my doses accurately to avoid unnecessary hypos and how to incorporate all the food classes in my diet and maintain good blood glucose levels. I also have a good understanding of managing physical activity and have learnt so much during my pregnancies. I have perfectly healthy children.

What has been your lowest point with diabetes?

My lowest points were the first three years after my diagnosis and when I found out I was pregnant. I was very scared and constantly worried about whether I was doing the right things to keep my babies healthy. It was not easy. Checking my blood glucose 12 times a day and losing my hypo awareness was very challenging.

Have you ever experienced issues accessing diabetes medicines, supplies and care?

When I was in Nigeria, purchasing medicines and everything I needed to manage my condition was very costly for my family. Nothing was subsidised.

What do you think needs to change to improve the lives of people living with diabetes in your country?

There should be more focus on improving the lives of people living with diabetes by making insulin, test strips, other medicines and structured diabetes education programmes widely available. There should be advocacy programmes implemented in rural areas and a greater focus on promoting a better understanding among health professionals of what a healthy, balanced diet should include and how it should be tailored to the needs of the individual. There is still so much struggle with diet in Nigeria.

What does the centenary of insulin mean to you?

It means so much to me. Without insulin, I would have died 33 years ago.

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