A SPIKE in the number of Hunter children with severe Type 1 diabetes being admitted to intensive care during the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted doctors to assure parents the hospital is safe to attend if their children become unwell.
As many people tried to avoid hospitals and healthcare settings during the peak of the region's coronavirus outbreak, doctors at the John Hunter Children's Hospital issued a public plea for people to be aware of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes following a spate of new onset cases requiring intensive care.
"We have had a lot of kids with new Type 1 diabetes fullstop, but we have had a big increase in kids presenting with severe Type 1 diabetes needing to go to intensive care and needing extra treatment," paediatric endocrinologist, Dr Prudence Lopez, said.
"In the whole of 2018 we only had one kid with Type 1 go to intensive care.
"In the past three months we have had at least six of our new diabetes cases go to intensive care.
"It has been a big spike for us with really sick kids.
"It is what they have seen in Italy and China as well, so we think it is probably to do with parents being afraid to come to hospital because of COVID."
Dr Lopez said children - and adults - with Type 1 diabetes suffered a build up of acids in their blood without management.
"If it is left untreated you will vomit, you can go into a coma and you can die," she said. "It can get really severe.
"The four main early symptoms are if the kids are drinking more than normal, weeing more than normal, if they are losing weight, and if they are tired."
Brodi Woodhouse spent his 12th birthday in a ward at the John Hunter Children's Hospital after a life-threatening introduction to the auto-immune condition.
"The night we ended up taking him to Belmont Hospital emergency - he had been sick all day, and I just thought it was a gastro bug because he was vomiting and he couldn't keep anything down," Brodi's mother, Jacqui Woodhouse, said.
I didn't want to take him to the hospital with everything that had been going on - we didn't want to be these parents over-reacting about every little thing and tying up time unnecessarily in the emergency department.Jacqui Woodhouse, Brodi's mother
"I didn't want to take him to the hospital with everything that had been going on - we didn't want to be these parents over-reacting about every little thing and tying up time unnecessarily in the emergency department. We'd seen all the people lining up for screening, trying to get tested.
"But when he started to get worse, we took him to the hospital anyway, and I am so glad we did because he just got worse and worse while he was there."
Mrs Woodhouse said the doctor knew there was something "seriously wrong", but it took time for them to piece it all together.
"Thankfully one of the nurses who had been trying to give Brodi some things to try to stop him vomiting, and trying to give him water, came in and said, 'Has anyone done a blood sugar test?'
"She grabbed his finger and did the test, and sent us off to get a urine specimen.
"By the time we were coming out of the toilet they told me that Brodi was really, really sick. They said - 'How long has he been a diabetic?' I said, 'He's not.' His blood sugars were really high."
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Brodi spent the next three days in ICU at the John Hunter Children's Hospital, then another week in a ward learning how to manage his new condition.
"My head was just spinning," Mrs Woodhouse said.
"I just thought he just had a gastro bug. I thought it would just run its course.
"I carry a lot of guilt about that. Hindsight is 20/20. It could have been so much worse.
"Looking back now, it's a lesson learned. If your child is sick, your child is sick, you have to take them in.
"If it hadn't been for that doctor and nurse working out what was wrong when they did, I'd hate to think what would have happened.
"I don't even want to think what the consequences would've been."
Ms Woodhouse said Brodi, who has autism and had previously battled juvenile arthritis, had recently been put on a new medication.
"He had been drinking a lot more. He wasn't eating as much, and we thought it was the new medication, because some of them suppress appetite and some can make you thirsty," she said.
Dr Lopez said all of the Hunter children who had been through intensive care at the John Hunter Children's Hospital had recovered.
"For Type 1, all kids diagnosed get admitted to hospital when they are first diagnosed for inpatient education because managing it is quite involved," she said.
"If you have any concerns, or notice those four main warning signs, you can go to a GP for advice, or if it is more severe, the hospital is safe."