A Parent's Story

27/05/04: Michael Viksna- As a family, we had already suffered a devastating blow when our daughter Katie was diagnosed as having diabetes. However, she coped with the changes it meant extremely well, her treatment had started to work and we were all proud of the way she insisted that the illness had to fit into her lifestyle, and not the other way round.

About a month after she started her first job, when she returned home after work she appeared to be having problems with her fingers - always flexing her hands and complaining of pains shooting through the wrists. Although she only worked three evenings a week, the pains in her hands appeared to be getting worse - so despite her protests, and the fear of what we genuinely believed to be diabetes-related problems, I convinced her to allow me to make an appointment with the doctor. 

Initially the doctor suspected some sort of repetitive strain injury, for which he prescribed a course of anti-inflammatory medication. But by his own admission he said he was "rather concerned", so he also took blood samples. In the weeks that followed, Katie's condition got much worse, and although the blood samples had revealed nothing conclusive, we were becoming increasingly worried. 

Suddenly every joint in Katie's body was hurting, especially her wrists, knees and ankles. One particular morning she could not get out of bed because of the pain and when I helped her to stand up it was noticeable that her knees were grotesquely swollen. Immediately I called the doctor, who came within the hour. 

September 16th 2002 will be a date forever etched in our minds - the date we were taken into the private office of the specialist treating Katie and told the reasons for her pains: she was suffering from a very aggressive type of inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis. 

How can you begin to tell a teenager, that on top of her daily insulin injections, she would have to take medication to treat arthritis for the rest of her life? The specialist tried to reassure us by stating that, with the modern drugs available, the condition could be kept under control, but we knew it was going to be terribly hard for Katie to accept. 

In order to control the illness, it was decided to prescribe drugs which had been very successful in treating other arthritis sufferers. The only problem was that it could take up to three months for the full benefits to be felt. However, in the meantime, anti-inflammatory and general pain killers could be used. 

Over the next few weeks Katie was in and out of hospital on a regular basis. The medication the specialist had prescribed for her was having a serious effect on her diabetes, and her blood sugar levels were subsequently exceptionally high. Her pains were almost constant now and every joint in her body was being affected. 

Various different medications were being prescribed, including steroids, but really none were making much progress. Pain was now becoming a way of life for Katie, and although she had been so brave in the early stages of the illness, she was so tired, her body was giving up the fight. 

What I witnessed in the hospital still brings tears to my eyes, examinations were being undertaken, drips fixed to her arms, blood tests, questions asked. When requested by the doctor to stand, Katie tried so hard but her body just refused to co-operate. She was gritting her teeth but her eyes told the truth - if anybody had given her the choice of fighting on or simply closing her eyes to sleep for ever, she would have accepted the latter. 

Almost a week was spent in hospital, but eventually Katie returned home. It is almost eight months now since she was last in hospital. Obviously there have been the regular visits to see the specialist, and the occasions where her knees have been drained of fluid, but something very special happened to her that awful night in hospital. Her body wanted to give up, but something was driving her on to keep fighting. She told us how she saw vivid images of children dying of leukaemia, and that she remembers clearly telling herself that her illness was nothing compared to those poor children. Whether or not her medication was causing hallucinations we will never know, but Katie came home from the hospital a different person. 

There are good days and there are still bad days when the pains return and she has to rest. A ritual is now firmly in place: blood sugar levels need taking, insulin injections are required, anything up to sixteen tablets are consumed on a daily basis, but Katie has got her smile back. 

It still breaks my heart, to see my seventeen year old daughter struggle to walk down the road or climb the stairs, but she serves as a constant source of inspiration to us. If I have an headache, or appear to be suffering with something as trivial as a common cold, Katie is there to bring me a glass of water or ask how I am feeling. 

We are blessed with one very special daughter, who has had to endure so much pain and suffering in her short life, but thinks only of others and never herself - she is without a doubt one in a million.