Title

Personal Stories

A Conversation with UK Diabetic Dad Paul Sandells

As we continue celebrating type 1 fathers who’ve made a difference in their communities, T1D Strong heads across the pond to speak with UK Diabetes Dad Paul Sandells. Activist, blogger and podcaster Sandells has lived with T1D for over 40 years and likes to share his space to promote positive messaging and raise awareness of diabetes-related charities worldwide.

A Conversation with UK Diabetic Dad Paul Sandells

About Paul Sandells

Paul Sandells resides in the ‘little leafy town’ of Leicester, England, with his wife, family and Cocker Spaniel, Billy. Sandells, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) on his eighth birthday, fortunately, had wonderful, supportive parents who were hands-on with his diabetes management from an early age.

However, Sandells said his healthcare support lacked much beyond basic routine checkups and his hBA1c tests.

Sandell said that he hid his diabetes for many years, but after experiencing eye complications and recovering from surgeries, he decided to open up and talk about his problems—online. The more Sandells revealed about the personal aspects of having T1D, the more he learned about the disease. As he opened up, he found others who shared their troubles and remedies.

“I made hundreds of friends and contacts via my social media accounts and many diabetes-related gatherings and conferences. In time, more and more began to turn to me for a conversation about their own T1D. We often shared similar issues and would find solutions through talking.”

The Online Advocate

Sandells is a T1D ambassador to ELSA (Early Surveillance for Autoimmune Diabetes). The ELSA Study screens children for type 1 diabetes. Any child in the UK aged three to 13 years is eligible to take part. 

“Diabetes is still stigmatized, and access to technology and medications (even in the UK) is still a huge problem. I try to use my voice and platform to raise awareness and do what I can to support my peers.”

Another non-profit close to Sandells' heart is the T1D charity Action4Diabetes (A4D), which supports children with T1D in Southeast Asia.

“The struggles to access the very basics of diabetes care in SE Asia made me cry. I just sobbed when I heard some of the stories. Beyond online support, in 2022, Sandells walked 250,000 steps for A4D.”

The UK-registered charity A4D works to improve the health outcomes of disadvantaged youth by ensuring free access to life-saving medical supplies, healthcare services and continual education.

Sandells' online presence grew broader, and he discovered he had more to say than what could fit in the Twitter space, so he started a blog page, YouTube Vlog, and podcast. 

Diabetic Dad Blog

In 2021, during the COVID lockdown, Sandells started blogging and has since written over 120 posts, reaching over half a million viewers. His blog can be found at diabeticdaduk.blogspot.com.

“I often have something to say, and my blog provides an outlet for posts that are too long for the likes of Twitter.”

Mentoring Support

On his blog page, Sandells offers assistance to individuals with T1D one-on-one. “I have supported a number of people with T1D. No medical advice is given. Instead, we talk through problems and examine solutions. Often, my mentees need a safe space to talk privately because they have nobody else.” 

“The vast majority of my mentoring is done for free, and I’ll always try to accommodate that request. However, due to time demands to complete my paid work, I can sometimes only accommodate mentor requests on a paid basis. I try to keep services affordable and for less than I would expect to earn from my paid work. I rarely advertise this service because my availability is limited, but readers can contact me on X if they’d like to discuss.”

Online Diabetes Merch

In addition to his mentoring, Sandells has an online diabetes clothing store where he sells t-shirts and other clothing items with funny slang T1D sayings like “24/7 Pancreas Impersonator, Diabadass, and Go Ahead, Eat Carbs, I Got You (with a picture of Frederick Banting).”

“I try to keep a light-hearted element in my social media, which resulted in these strange little catchphrases!”

So, if you’re searching for some convivial apparel that pokes fun at the disease that requires hundreds of pokes from you a year, check out the Diabetic Dad’s Diabetes Clothing Store for men, women and children. 

Most importantly, Sandells doesn’t profit from his online store. All proceeds are donated to the T1D charity Action4Diabetes (A4D). 

In addition to his online blog, X (formerly Twitter) space @DiabeticDadUK, where he has over 10,000 followers, you can reach Sandells on his YouTub channel with the same name. On Sandells’ diabetes vlog and podcast channel, he’s shared more than 100 diabetes-related discussions, interviews and reviews of diabetes technology and insulins.

Sandells also uses his space to offer ways to support diabetes-related causes and donate to charities in need, such as the British Red Cross and War Child, to support the children in Gaza. A doctor from the humanitarian group Life for a Child reported, “The health situation of Gazan children with diabetes is devastating. Young people are exposed to frequent admission to hospitals with diabetes coma resulting from the lack of insulin and food.” 

The Blue Balloon Challenge

As Sandells contributes to more diabetes advocacy roles, he’s found that they consume more of his time. One such campaign is the Medtronic “Blue Balloon Challenge.”   

You’ve probably heard the universal metaphor that compares diabetes to keeping a balloon in the air—while you do everything else in your daily life, including sleep.

“The lovely people at DigiBete asked for my support for that campaign.” Sandells created a short video to help raise awareness. DigiBete, founded by families living with diabetes, is a video platform and diabetes management app.

The Blue Balloon Challenge is a campaign by Medtronic Diabetes and Life for a Child to raise awareness about living with diabetes. The PSA intends to improve diabetes care, encourage understanding and start conversations about T1D challenges. 

Diabetes Burnout

One of the toughest challenges T1Ds battle is diabetes burnout, which can burden even the strongest of minds. You may be tempted to slack off at times when feeling overwhelmed, but poor self-care and blood sugar control have ramifications if you’re not careful.

Diabetes distress comes in waves. It can feel discouraging when you’re not hitting your target time in range, which is why seeking online support can be very helpful. Also, encouraging others through difficult phases will return to you threefold.

“My friends often check in on me as I check on them. I reduce the checks of my blood glucose and try just to ensure I’m avoiding severe hypos for a little while. Doing the minimum to get by is sometimes enough.”

Sandells’ insulin pump therapy is a hybrid closed-loop system that uses a Tandem T:Slim X2 insulin pump and the Dexcom G7 continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

“A hybrid closed loop seems certain to improve the outcomes for many. I’d like to see that as the global standard for care. AI will likely play a part in the coming years, further reducing the burden of living with T1D.”  

Tattoo Medical Alert

A medical alert helps first responders identify a patient's condition and administer treatment quickly. With type 1 diabetes a patient's blood sugar may drop so low they have trouble speaking, experience confusion or pass out, which is why an emergency medical alert is so important.

Sandells said that he opted for a tattoo in place of a bracelet or necklace because he is frequently losing things. "I do love my tattoo. In hindsight, I wish I'd been braver for more colors! Maybe another time.  In addition, it helps me to feel like I own this condition."

Advice for the Newly Diagnosed

With T1D on the rise, affecting more young adults than ever before, the online community provides a social support structure where T1Ds can find common ground. Online support provides a sense of belonging where participants can share experiences and receive practical advice.

When asked what Sandells advises someone newly diagnosed with T1D, he said, “Just know your life isn’t over. You’re going to have some difficult days. This needn’t change you or your plans in life. There are no perfect diabetics, so just do your best yet be kind to yourself.”

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