Updated 20 February 2017

A sweet life without sugar

Being diagnosed with diabetes does not have to mean the end of the world. Go-getter and type 1 diabetic Bridget McNulty is living proof that life can be sweet without sugar.

When 29-year-old novelist and writer Bridget McNulty was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes four years ago, she felt completely overwhelmed and frightened by all the negative information that was dumped on her about the disease. “I was terrified by all the pamphlets, which warned me of all the bad things that could happen to me as a diabetic,” she recalls. Complications from diabetes include eye problems and the risk of going blind, an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, foot and skin problems and, the worst of all to Bridget, amputations. “I remember misreading a pamphlet as saying ‘70% of diabetics are amputees’ instead of ‘70% of amputees are diabetics,’” Bridget says. “That totally freaked me out!”

Bridget was still trying to come to terms with her diagnosis and what it all meant, and the apparent “doom and gloom” message did not help at all. 

Before being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Bridget led a very busy life. After completing her creative writing studies in the US, she wrote, published and marketed her first novel and started working in Cape Town full-time –  achieving all this by the age of 25. Her hectic lifestyle, however, caught up with her and she started to suffer from bouts of extreme exhaustion. When she finally ended up in ICU (two weeks after her book launch), the doctor discovered her blood-sugar levels to be at a dangerously high 24. “I was two days away from a coma,” says Bridget. Read the full story of her diagnosis and recovery here.

Luckily, Bridget found a very good dietician and endocrinologist who helped her adjust to her new lifestyle and, together with a very supportive family and boyfriend, she became healthy and strong again. “It’s been four years now and I sometimes forget that I’m a diabetic. I eat healthily, exercise regularly and inject myself with insulin, but it has become such a part of my daily routine, that it has become second nature.”

Spreading the news

Life is good for Bridget. Though she's had to learn to slow down her pace and go more with the flow, she is still achieving far more than most of us. Since being diagnosed with diabetes, she won the Novo Nordisk Media Prize for reporting on diabetes and, joined by her now husband Mark Peddle, she travelled the world for six months to raise diabetes awareness and to inspire people with her positive approach to the disease.

Travelling as a diabetic was a challenge in itself but she managed to keep a balance and the trip was a great success. She and Mark even got engaged in Bali. “It was very romantic. Mark popped the question on a small fishing boat on the ocean at sunset, with candles and mango juice,” she recalls. (They tied the knot on 19 March 2011 and are loving every moment of their married life.)

On returning to South Africa, Bridget and Mark were super-inspired and ready to embark on their next project. “While travelling abroad and talking to many people about diabetes, I was reminded of the real need in South Africa for accessible information about diabetes as well as a community where diabetics can share their worries and experiences.

 “When you’re first diagnosed with diabetes, you can feel very lonely and scared, wondering ‘why did it have to happen to me?’” says Bridget. “I want to focus on the positive side of the condition – that if you’re in control, there’s nothing you can’t do. I also want to give people a forum where they can talk about life and diabetes and motivate each other. I want to change that with Sweet Life.”

Diabetes lifestyle magazine

Sweet Life is the name of Bridget‘s brand-new and free quarterly magazine which aims to address diabetes issues in an inspiring, original and fun way. “Sweet Life is a magazine for people with diabetes who want to live their lives to the full,” says Bridget. It will be launched in November, to coincide with Diabetes Awareness Month. You can already subscribe to the magazine to ensure that you’ll receive your free quarterly copy in the mail.

Bridget has also created a Sweet Life website and community blog with diabetes information and a panel of experts who can assist with queries. It is abuzz with a rapidly-growing diabetes community who chat about a wide range of subjects. “The website is a space to discuss any issues people have with diabetes, and try to find solutions (and inspiration) together,” says Bridget. Judging from the raving comments on the website, she has already achieved that.  

Apart from the quarterly magazine and website, there’s also a monthly newsletter, a Facebook page and a mobi site. Plus you can follow them on Twitter. Yup, it’s a total media onslaught and Bridget leaves nothing to chance. “I want to reach as many people with diabetes (and their friends and families) as possible and I want to make it accessible to everyone. I want to motivate people to take charge of their health and to live out the Sweet Life. As our motto says ‘life can be sweet, without sugar’.”

And who can argue that? There’s certainly no better example of a diabetic living life to the full than Bridget.

(Health24, September 2011)

Read more:

Kwaito star Howza stands up for diabetes
Bongi-Ngema Zuma: a heart for diabetes
Infographic: diabetes - the short and sweet of it
Pre-diabetes: could you have it?


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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