By Marina Chaker
A backpacker who thought her numb toes and hair falling out could have been due to walking long distances and swimming on a dream world trip actually had diabetes – and could have died every time she worked out.
Carly Pink-O’Sullivan, 30, was shocked when she was diagnosed with type one diabetes after a backpacking trip across China, Nepal and Europe.
Carly, from Perth, Australia, thought her symptoms – which included her hair falling out, extreme hunger, needing to drink 12 litres of water a day, numb toes and sweating – were due to walking for more than eight hours daily and swimming in the ocean and chlorinated pools.
But the fitness fanatic site administrator would often experience headaches, sweating, shakiness and double vision when working out – which can be signs of a potentially-fatal hypoglycemic episode.
Carly, who is also a nutrition and dietetics student, said: “My hair was falling out and I was always so thirsty – at one point drinking up to 12 litres of water a day – and I was really skinny and always hungry but I didn’t realise those were symptoms of diabetes.
“I worked out every day, I ate a healthy diet and I was the healthiest person in my entire family – so when I was diagnosed I just couldn’t believe I had diabetes.
“I assumed my hair was falling out because I was swimming a lot in the ocean and chlorine pools, it got worse as I was travelling in Bali but finally stopped when I was diagnosed and started using insulin.
“When I was in Berlin in 2013 my toes were numb for a number of weeks and I initially thought it could have been because of the cold weather and wearing boots all the time.
“I did actually Google it and it said it was a symptom of diabetes but I was fit and healthy so I just dismissed it.
“During workouts my sugar levels would get so low I’d end up having to eat jelly beans or anything with sugar. I was afraid that I would pass out.
“I went to the doctor for a glucose test and I was then told to go to emergency. At first, I didn’t understand what was happening, it was all too surreal. When I went to the hospital I got the diagnosis an hour later.
“Before I was diagnosed I only really knew about type two diabetes so assumed I wouldn’t be affected because I was fit and healthy.
“It’s only been since diagnosis that I’ve noticed just how little people know about type one and just how different it is to type two. That’s one of the things I want to raise awareness about.
“Type one diabetes is an autoimmune disease with no cure whereas type two diabetes is classified as a lifestyle disease and can be managed through a healthy diet.”
Carly was diagnosed with type one diabetes in 2014 after she received a routine blood test for a medical evaluation at work – but was told to rush to accident and emergency because her sugar levels were dangerously high.
She initially struggled with the idea of being a diabetic and her hypoglycemic episodes eventually meant she was forced to put her active lifestyle on hold.
But now she is fitter than ever and recently took part in a 12km run which saw her raise more than $7,300 AUD (£4,400) for Diabetes WA.
Carly, who now wants to raise awareness of the signs of type one diabetes, said: “After my diagnosis, I was too scared to exercise due to the fear of having a hypoglycemic episode.
“I had to stop working out because of the risk I’d go into hypoglycemic shock and I’d have to check my glucose levels every ten minutes.
“I would need to eat something with a lot of sugar and that defeated the purpose of exercise.
“Now I still exercise but now I’m a lot more in control of my diabetes so I’m happier and healthier.
“I still have to be careful, but you have to keep pushing through and there’s so much support out there.
“Now I know if I binge on junk food or eat something I’m not supposed to I’m only hurting myself.
“In May I ran the HBF 12km Run for a Reason to raise money for and awareness of type one diabetes.
“I also managed to start exercising again after I was introduced to the Free Style Libre.
“I wanted to get out of the routine of constantly checking my glucose levels, and it meant I was able to manage my glucose levels when training for the race.”
The Abbott’s Free Style Libre is a small round sensor diabetes sufferer wear on the back of their upper arm to measure glucose through a small fibre inserted just under the skin.
Professor Greg Johnson, CEO of Diabetes Australia, said: “Glucose monitoring is one of the most difficult and intrusive parts of living with diabetes, so we welcome technologies which provide a more convenient way to monitor glucose levels.”