Joanne tackles her diabetes with help from new Trust programme

Lisburn woman Joanne Bodell has battled with her weight for most of her life but when she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes she knew she had to do everything she could to reverse the diagnosis.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 11:05 am

Determined to tackle the condition head on, she agreed to take part in a new programme from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.

The Diabetes Remission pilot programme, the first in Northern Ireland, is based on ground-breaking research that demonstrated that patients with Type 2 Diabetes were able to place their disease into remission when following a 12-month lifestyle modification programme, which included three months of total diet replacement.

“i have always struggled with my weight since I was a teenager,” admitted 39-year-old Joanne, who is married with four children, all of whom she home-schools herself.

“I tried so many different diets. I would lose weight and then when I had my first child the weight went back on and I couldn’t get it off.”

It was when she was pregnant with her third child that the doctor discovered she had gestational diabetes. However after giving birth it disappeared, only to come back when Joanne fell pregnant with her fourth child.

“They think I probably had it with my first two but they didn’t test for it back then,” explained Joanne, who had her fourth child five years ago.

“I took it really badly and was on insulin the whole way through.

“Ever since then I have really battled with my weight and it has been a constant struggle.”

Joanne began to feel unwell before Christmas and recognised the symptoms of diabetes from when she was pregnant. After being tested,the doctor confirmed that she had Type 2 Diabetes, but as she already followed a healthy lifestyle it was difficult to make adjustments and her sugar levels remained very high.

“I have been sticking with a diet as much as I can and I’m a vegetarian so when I got the test back there was nothing they could do to alter my diet as I was sticking to a rigid plan and yet my sugar levels were still really high no matter what I did.”

It was her GP that suggested she try the new Diabetes Remission programme and Joanne jumped at the chance to take part.

The Remission Pilot Programme follows three phases.

Phase one is a diet composed solely of nutritionally complete total diet replacement products, with a total energy intake of up to 880 calories a day, for up to 12 weeks.

The second phase is a period of food reintroduction for six weeks and the third phase provides subsequent weight maintenance support for 34 weeks with a total programme duration of 12 months.

Interested participants are assessed using the inclusion criteria and provided with information on the Remission Pilot Programme by their GP, Consultant or Practice Nurse.

If the patient meets the criteria, they will be referred to the Diabetes Centre at the Ulster Hospital for an initial assessment and medicine review. If the patient is considered suitable they will enter the next group programme.

After having an interview with Dr Harper at the Ulster Hospital, Joanne was accepted onto the programme and has been working hard for the last two weeks.

“I was nervous at the beginning but I was at the stage that I felt so tired, unhealthy and fed up and I wanted to get my life back,” continued Joanne, who has lost an amazing 19lbs in just two weeks.

“I was nervous because of what it entailed for the first 12 weeks but I was determined and want to put everything I can into it.”

For the first 12 weeks the participants stick to shakes and soups in place of their regular meals, as well as drinking plenty of water.

It certainly isn’t an easy task and Joanne admitted the first three days were the most difficult.

“The first three days were very hard,” Joanne explained. “Mentally it was very hard and I was still having to shop and make meals for the family.

“After the fourth day it was nowhere near as hard though.

“I have been able to sit through the family having Chinese, picnics and a barbecue.

“Normally I reach out for food if I feel stressed and I haven’t given into that so I am really pleased.

“The difference already in how I feel is amazing, I feel better and my energy levels are better too. My sugar levels are coming down as well. It has been a dramatic change.”

Joanne is one of 50 patients taking part in the programme, and there are 10 in her group, who have all been offering valuable support throughout the process.

Throughout the year the group will be meeting online, and have had their first Zoom call during which they had a chance to meet the rest of the members of the group and the staff they will be working with.

“We can all relate to each other,” Joanne continued. “We are all going through the same kind of feelings.

“We have created a Whatsapp group so that we can talk to each other throughout the week and help each other.

“It is nice to know that someone is there at all times if you are struggling.”

Joanne aims to lose three stone in the first 12 weeks and hopes to lose six to seven stone by the end of the year.

“I want to lose weight but it’s more about getting the diabetes into remission,” she added. “I want to be here as long as I can for the children. They are my drive. I want to do everything I can for them.”

Roy Harper, Consultant Endocrinologist at the Ulster Hospital, who is looking after Joanne and the others throughout the programme, said: “It is very exciting to be able to offer our patients living with Type 2 Diabetes access to the Diabetes Remission Programme.

“We are creating a safe environment where Diabetes patients can lose a significant amount of weight thereby reversing their Type 2 Diabetes.

“Our approach is based on the DIRECT study which showed very good results and we hope that our patients will do even better with many getting their Type 2 Diabetes into remission”.

National Director for Diabetes UK, Tina McCrossan, added: “The South Eastern Trust’s Remission Pilot, based on the ground-breaking DIRECT study funded by Diabetes UK, is a really exciting opportunity for people taking part.

“We know that structured, low calorie weight management programmes can result in the remission of Type 2 Diabetes in some cases but, importantly, there are other health benefits including overall quality of life and psychological wellbeing.

“We look forward to seeing more results from this pilot and hearing how it has impacted the lives of those taking part.”

Commenting on the benefits of the programme, Health Minister Robin Swann stated: “Through developing the Diabetes Strategy and the Diabetes Network, my Department has encouraged the development of innovative practice in our approach to preventing and treating Type 2 Diabetes and this pilot is an opportunity to test new approaches on a pilot basis in line with emerging evidence.

“I would like to wish the 50 patients who are part of this pilot all the best as they commence this pilot programme.”