The gut feeling that saved my son

When Natasha’s bub was lethargic, her mother’s intuition told her something wasn’t right...
Natasha Elliott

Natasha Elliott, 20, Caboolture

Watching my bub crawl across the floor, I smiled. My chubby little man is slimming down, I thought. Born weighing 4.3 kilos, Kingston had always been a big baby. But now at nine months old, the adorable rolls that once creased his arms and legs were disappearing. Along with his chubbiness, everyone always commented on what a happy baby he was. He rarely cried and was forever melting hearts with his gummy smile.

Just after he started crawling, Kingston and I took a trip up the coast to see my dad Paul, 52, and step-mum Andrea, 45, in Mackay. My partner Michael, now 22, was working in a quarry near Harlin, so it was just me and my little man. The weather was scorching, and despite keeping out of the heat, Kingston was constantly thirsty. After guzzling his bottle of water, he’d put his tiny hands out wanting more. ‘I hope he’s not getting sick,’ I worried to Andrea.

Michael, Natasha and Kingston
Michael and me with Kingston (Credit: Natasha Elliott)

With two experienced babysitters on hand, I took the opportunity to go out with some friends for the night. ‘You be good for Nanna and Pa while I’m out,’ I said, scooping up Kingston for a kiss. But as I wrapped my arms around him, I suddenly noticed my boy was a bit too slim. Although I knew he’d lose his baby fat eventually, Kingston looked gaunt and had dark circles around his eyes. All the holiday excitement must be taking it out of him, I thought.

But the next morning he looked really unwell, his eyes were sunken and he seemed lethargic. As it was a Sunday, 
I decided to take him to a GP first thing the next day. But that night Kingston slept really deeply and was hard to rouse. Even when I kissed him, he still didn’t wake. ‘Come on, bubba,’ I said.

Mother’s intuition told me my bub was in serious trouble.

Starting to worry, Andrea and I went straight to the medical centre. The doctor said it was dehydration and prescribed electrolytes. ‘But he’s been asleep for over 14 hours,’ I said, feeling panicky. The GP reassured me that after having some fluids, he’d be fine.

But as I bundled my boy into the car, something inside me clicked. Mother’s intuition told me my bub was in serious trouble. ‘Go straight to the hospital!’ I told Andrea.

Kingston sleeping at hospital
We were terrified Kingston wouldn’t wake up. (Credit: Natasha Elliott)

Racing there, we went to emergency, where Kingston was given X-rays and various tests, but they still couldn’t find anything wrong. For a moment, I started to doubt myself. Was I worrying for nothing? But by midday he still hadn’t woken up and I was beside myself.

‘Something needs to be done for my boy!’ I cried out in the middle of the waiting room. I was making a scene but didn’t care. Kingston needed help!

The head doctor came over to calm me down and checked Kingston’s blood sugar levels.Then, all of a sudden, chaos broke out. Three more doctors and a handful of nurses suddenly surrounded my bub. ‘If we don’t get fluids into him soon, his organs will shut down,’ one told me.

‘You need to call Kingston’s dad,’ she said gently. ‘He needs to come here in case you have to say goodbye.’

I was stunned. Practically all Kingston had done for the last two days was drink water and milk. It didn’t make sense. Watching the staff work, a numb feeling came over me. I felt like I was in a living nightmare. Unable to watch him being prodded, I left the room in floods of tears as a social worker sat me down.

‘You need to call Kingston’s dad,’ she said gently. ‘He needs to come here in case you have to say goodbye.’ My world shattered. Was my boy going to die?

On the phone to Michael, all the emotions I’d been pushing down came spilling out. ‘Kingston is really sick. You need to get on the next flight,’ I wept. I couldn’t bring myself to explain how serious it really was. How could I tell him that our baby was dying?

With Michael on his way, I had to focus on our son. Miraculously, the doctors managed to give him fluids through his groin but he was still very sick. The Royal Flying Doctors flew us both to Townsville Hospital, where Michael could meet us. Holding Kingston’s tiny hand during the flight, I prayed he would hold on long enough. ‘Mummy’s here,’ I soothed.

Kingston smile
I couldn’t believe how sick my happy little boy had suddenly become. (Credit: Natasha Elliott)

Within minutes of arriving, I saw Michael and collapsed into his arms. ‘He’s so sick!’ I sobbed into his chest. The doctor came over to talk to us. ‘Kingston’s in a diabetic coma. He’s got type-1 diabetes,’ she said. My head swarmed with questions. Would he be okay? Was there a cure? I didn’t know anything about type-1 diabetes or what that meant for my boy.

That night we waited by his bedside hoping for any sign of recovery. As local diabetes educators came to see us the next day, we were eager to find out what made our baby so ill. We discovered Kingston’s pancreas had stopped producing insulin, essential for controlling glucose levels in the body. If those levels get dangerously high or low, people with type-1 diabetes slip into a coma.

Reading through the symptoms, Kingston’s sudden weight loss, extreme thirst and lethargy all made sense. I blamed myself for not realising sooner. Still by his bed, I made my boy a promise. ‘If you come back to me, I’ll do everything I can to give you a happy and healthy life,’ I whispered. Thankfully, the next day he opened his eyes and let out a small cry. Hearing it, I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. Kingston would be okay.

Our boy doesn't let his condition get in his way
Our boy doesn’t let his condition get in his way. (Credit: Natasha Elliott)

Four days later we started seeing his gummy grin again. Three weeks after that we came home. It’s now over a year since Kingston’s diagnosis, and life has changed dramatically. As well as controlling his type-1 diabetes with diet and insulin, I need to make sure he doesn’t exert himself too much as it can affect his glucose levels. I live in fear that he’ll end up in another coma.

For the first few months I had to give him daily injections of insulin. But thankfully the Bribie Island Diabetes Support Group donated an $8000 insulin pump which gives him the exact doses of insulin he needs without needles. Sadly I still have to prick his tiny finger to take bloods every two hours. That’s why I’m campaigning for the government to fund constant glucose monitors, a device that continuously measures glucose 24 hours a day.

taking a child's glucose

Despite being prodded and poked by his mum and dad, Kingston is now a happy, cheeky little two year old. I’m so proud that he’s facing life with a smile.

As told to Riah Matthews.

Originally published in that’s life! Issue 1, 2016.

Type-1 Diabetes

➜ Type-1 diabetes affects over 130,000 people in Australia. It’s caused by the immune system mistakenly turning on itself, destroying beta cells within the pancreas and removing its ability to produce insulin.

➜ Without insulin the body starves, as it cannot process food. Although it usually occurs in children, it can be diagnosed at any age.

➜ Symptoms include thirst, tiredness, going to the toilet a lot to pass urine, weight loss and being dehydrated.

➜ To find out more, visit Diabetes Australia.

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