Diabetes patient praises Sheffield researchers for helping transform the quality of her life

A Sheffield diabetes patient who was one of the first people to take part in a ground-breaking trial that has helped thousands improve the quality of their life has praised city researchers for their work.

Sunday, 27th June 2021, 4:46 pm
Susan Dunigan.
Susan Dunigan.

Susan Dunigan, 67, of Fulwood, who is sharing her story as part of Diabetes Awareness Week, took part in the pilot study of the DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating) trial 20 years ago, and hasn’t had a single diabetes-related hospital admission ever since.

The trial, which was led by Professor Simon Heller at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust led to the five-day training programme being rolled out to NHS diabetes centres across the country.

Since then the programme, which is recognised by NICE and the Department of Health, has helped over 50,000 patients across the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Kuwait, to understand more about their condition and how they can manage insulin to improve control.

For Susan, who was first diagnosed with her condition at the age of 24 the trial represented a turning point.

“Every day social situations were always a challenge. I would turn up at a friend’s house for a meal, but we’d not eat until two hours later, but my diabetes made it hard for me to be flexible and I would always be thinking about how to avoid the threat of a hypo.

The advice was to closely match my carbohydrate intake to my insulin intake but it was always a bit hit and miss. Other factors would have an impact, too, such as exercise or other external factors like stress.”

Susan was one of the first patients in the country to receive the DAFNE training in November 2000, where she learned how to match her insulin dose to her chosen food intake on a meal by meal basis.

Twenty years on, she’s not looked back, and the ongoing training has given her the freedom to live a rewarding life.

“I am now much more confident about taking exercise and my diabetes is so well controlled I can cycle on my electric bike without my blood sugars dipping to dangerous levels and I even learnt to scuba dive, something people with my condition are usually told to avoid due to the risk of having a hypoglycaemic attack underwater. I feel really privileged to have been part of the DAFNE course and would encourage others to take part if they are given the chance.”

Professor Simon Heller, Director of Research and Development at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and principal investigator of the DAFNE trial, said: “DAFNE has given those people with Type 1 diabetes the skills to manage their condition, with the findings showing that those who attended the course had a better quality of life, better glucose levels and were admitted to hospital less often for diabetes emergencies.

Research into the lifelong benefits of the DAFNE programme are ongoing, and we hope to publish the findings of our five-year DAFNEplus study, which is looking at how developing the course, incorporating new theories of behaviour change and technologies can help those with Type 1 diabetes improve management of their condition, within the next year.”