Diagnosed while on holiday

What was suppose to be a relaxing family holiday filled with laughter turned out to be a stressful, life-changing event for the Engelbrecht family. Their daughter, Jemma (4), was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Willem and Lauren Engelbrecht live in Montagu, Western Cape with their three children, Jemma (4), Louis (2) and, Alexander, their three-month old baby.

While on holiday in May this year, little Jemma was constantly asking her parents for something to drink, and needed the toilet often. After vomiting one evening, she was taken to a local doctor; he thought it could be gastro as she looked very dehydrated.

Lauren asked for her urine to be checked; her glucose was also tested and it was confirmed right there and then that she has Type 1 diabetes – her blood glucose was over 27 mmol/L and she had a ketone level of 7,7. The four-year-old was immediately admitted into hospital and put into high care for six days.

To make matters worse, Lauren was seven months pregnant with Alexander and because she was in such a state, she was also examined by a doctor. Thankfully, baby Alexander was fine.

“Our biggest decision to make was: do we carry on with our holiday or do we go home? But we thought to make it easier for Jemma, and the transition as normal as possible we would stay, and it turned out to be fun. Nothing was stopping our brave little warrior,” Lauren explained.

While in Durban, Jemma was prescribed Humalog and NovaRapid, both fast-acting insulins, but once the family arrived back home and consulted with their family doctor, they were informed she was on the wrong insulin and the doses were all wrong. Another emotional blow for the family. Little Jemma was once again admitted to hospital for five days. This was devastating for Lauren and Willem, as Jemma had adapted so well, but now had to undergo more ‘prodding’, which made her frantic and distraught.

It was explained that the initial prescription of insulin was wrong for her age. She was then put on NovaRapid, a fast-acting insulin, and Levimer, a long-acting insulin, and a vast improvement was seen.

Luckily for the family of five, being health-conscious the change in diet wasn’t too difficult, however, as parents they do find it very hard when Jemma asks for a banana or sweet, and they have to say no.

Jemma doesn’t attend school yet, so Lauren manages all the testing and injections. “She never complains about me pricking her 8-10 times a day. She just carries on with her little life the best she can. I’m so proud of her,” Lauren said.

Not only has the Engelbrecht family found Jemma’s diagnosis emotionally and mentally strenuous, but also financially. “Our medical aid doesn’t cover all the expenses, especially now with a new baby,” Lauren added.

The cute little four-year-old is very much aware of her illness and is willing to tell people that she has Type 1 diabetes.

“It has now been six months and we’re still learning about this dreaded disease. We have our good days and our bad days. But she is the strongest and bravest little girl I know,” Lauren said.


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on [email protected]