‘I was a needle-phobic young diabetic – now I help children just like me’

Jade Clark, children's diabetes nurse who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes aged 10. Photo shows her in a floral dress and black cardigan, looking at the camera. She is wearing glasses.

Published on 1 July 2021

Children’s diabetes nurse Jade Clark knows exactly how her young patients feel after being told they have diabetes – she was given exactly the same life-changing news aged just 10.

As a needle-phobic child whose knowledge of the condition was limited to her brother telling her she would die if she ate one bit of sugar, being told she had Type 1 diabetes was devastating.

But thanks to the work of Jade and the rest of the team at East Kent Hospitals, young people who are diagnosed today will have a very different experience.

Jade said: “Things have moved on a lot since I was diagnosed, both in terms of our approach and in the technology that we can use.

“Everything was so restrictive then. I was diagnosed just before Easter and when I was in hospital the bikers came around with Easter eggs for all the children, and I wasn’t allowed to have one.

“My mum still twitches if I pick up a piece of cake but we can be much more flexible in terms of what we eat now.

“When I’m working, it’s not about my diabetes, it’s about our patients and their experiences but having Type 1 diabetes does give me additional awareness and insight and that can be useful.”

Jade was diagnosed after a week away with school, where her symptoms were initially dismissed as a bug.

But after days of extreme thirst and frequent trips to the toilet, her mother found her asleep downstairs in the middle of the night, clutching an empty cup of water, and took her to see the GP who sent them to hospital.

She said: “I remember his face dropping and he said I had to go to hospital. I don’t remember much else but I was in diabetic ketoacidosis.

“I woke up with tracks down my arm because they couldn’t find a vein.”

Initially Jade’s mum, then her sister, took charge of her regular injections of insulin but with support from staff at Buckland hospital she learned to manage her anxieties and inject herself.

Now Jade helps run specialist clinics, working with a psychologist, to help others overcome their needle anxieties and phobia.

She said: “It is something I am passionate about, because it made such a huge difference to me. Our techniques are different now but the aim is the same – to give someone the tools to cope with injections and blood tests.”

When she left school, Jade initially completed a foundation degree in art and design but she was drawn to a career helping people and spent two years as a care worker before applying for her nursing degree.

Her first job was a children’s emergency department nurse, but the busy and pressured environment made it difficult to take time to look after herself so she decided to change roles.

And since joining the children’s diabetes team she hasn’t looked back.

She said: “We don’t judge, we just want to help and support the families as best as humanly possible and keep everyone safe.

“I completely get how hard it is being a teenager and having diabetes. You wake up and don’t want to be diabetic every day, but diabetes is not you, and you are not diabetes.

“You just need have to have a few extra tools in your bag – and we can help young people and families find the tools that work for them.”