How an eight-year-old Sheffield girl hopes to change the way people see diabetes

With cream on her nose, and a mega-watt smile, it's easy to forget that it's been quite a year for Sophielee Barker-Bown.

By Nik Farah
Sunday, 5th May 2019, 11:58 am
Updated Sunday, 5th May 2019, 12:01 pm
Sophielee Barker-Bown and mum Karen. Image: BYB Photography
Sophielee Barker-Bown and mum Karen. Image: BYB Photography

The petite Gleadless girl was just seven-years-old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes last September, changing her family's world overnight.

“Of course it was a tough blow,” says her mum Karen.

“She couldn’t understand why this was happening to her. It broke my heart when she asked if she’d caused it by eating too many sweets, and when I couldn’t tell her why it would never go away.”

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Karen had noticed some changes in her ‘bright and happy’ girl in the weeks running up to her diagnosis. Sophielee was thirsty all the time, and urinating more frequently. She also seemed to have lost a little weight, going down a size in her school uniform. A doctor recognised the symptoms immediately, and a blood test confirmed it.

“We were told that, through no fault of her own, her pancreas was no longer producing insulin. We’re lucky it was caught very early, so we were able to get her treated right away.”

Sophie began a regular cycle of several-times-a-day injections, to help keep her blood sugars balanced; injections she will have for the rest of her life.

“Those first couple of days in hospital were hard,” Karen admits.

“It’s such a permanent thing you're dealing with, which is hard for a kid to grasp, and at first Sophielee took it hard; she lashed out at me, and at the doctors. Then I sat down with her and I said ‘I know this is hard, but this is the deal; you’ve got this for life now, so the sooner you deal with it, the easier it will be.’

“That day she did her own finger prick test, which she does to check her sugar levels. On the second day she let me do her injection for her, and by the third day, she was doing her own injections.

“These days she takes it all in her stride.”

What’s more, not too long after that pep talk, Sophielee decided she wanted to turn a negative into a positive and find a way to pay it forward. She asked her mum if they could donate £5,000 to the hospital where she’d been treated, to thank them for all they’d done for her.

“And she had lots of ideas about how we were going to raise the money,” says Karen.

“She said, ‘we’ll walk dogs, and wash cars,’ and I told her £5,000 is a lot of dogs and cars! But the truth is the fundraising came thick and fast from that day. I put a post on Facebook about what Sophielee wanted to do, asking for people's help, and from there we’ve had a band night, a dance showcase, car boot sale, and a summer fun day at her school, it’s been incredible. We've already hit £2,000.”

And Sophielee has even teamed up with her school TA, who helped her after her diagnosis, to launch a cookbook, which includes recipes from family and friends, as well as some well-known local names – and even Gino D’Acampo!

“Sophielee knew Gino’s middle name was Sheffield and so, even though, he’s not from here, she thought that qualified him to get involved,” laughs Karen.

“I thought ‘well, you don’t ask, you don’t get,’ so I called his manager and told her the story, and he replied with a recipe for the book.”

The book is available now on pre-order through Sophielee’s JustGiving page at £5,99 a book.

Karen adds: “Sophieliee is an inspiration – not only to other children her age, but also to people in the T1 community – and I’m so proud of the way she’s taken all this on. This type of diabetes can be so misunderstood, and the more awareness that campaigns like Sophs5kChallenge can raise, the more children’s lives will be changed and saved.

Visit sophs5kchallenge on JustGiving for details.