<<Sugar Rush is a patient support group dedicated to helping teenagers with diabetes cope with their condition and continue leading meaningful lives.>>

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be a hard pill to swallow, especially for children who face the long-term prospect of insulin injections. At KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), teenagers with diabetes can turn to “Sugar Rush”, a patient support group, for peer support.

“We wanted a fun name for the group and sugar is a big part of our life,” said Mr Rajwinder Singh, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was five.

Sugar Rush was set up in 2011 by Mr Singh with friends he made at KKH. The group found encouragement and support in KKH Nurse Clinician Lim Pei Kwee. Ms Lim, who is a Diabetes Nurse Educator, felt that although KKH has a diabetes support group for young patients and their families, it would be beneficial to have one dedicated for teens.

“Many of these teenagers do not have any friends with diabetes, so they feel alone, especially when they are first diagnosed. It is important to engage this group and motivate them to better manage their condition. It was therefore very timely when Rajwinder approached me with the idea of setting up Sugar Rush to help teenagers live better with diabetes. It is also a platform where our healthcare team and patients with similar conditions can connect,” Ms Lim said. Last year, Sugar Rush was recognised by the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient & Caregiver Awards 2020.

Ray of hope

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease with no known cause. In this condition, the pancreas produces little or no insulin, so patients have to be administered with insulin injections for the rest of their lives.

For young patients and their parents, the diagnosis can be distressing and concerns about the patient’s quality of life are common. However, they take heart when they meet Sugar Rush members, such as Mr Singh and current chairperson, Ms Samantha Seet. They feel encouraged when they see the members coping well, and pursuing their dreams and careers despite having diabetes.

No limitations to life

Indeed, Sugar Rush’s goal is to exemplify through their members that living with diabetes does not mean living a less fulfilling life.

“Joining Sugar Rush is life-changing for me as I got to befriend other people living with type 1 diabetes. Prior to this, I have never met anyone who lives with any form of diabetes. I learnt that diabetic patients can do the same exercises, eat the same food, and have the same accomplishments in life just like any other person who is not suffering from diabetes,” said Ms Seet, who recently graduated from university.

Diabetes, too, has not held Mr Singh back. He works as a business development manager, and continues to inspire new members as they learn to manage their illness.

Who can join?

Sugar Rush is open to diabetes patients at KKH aged 12 to 16. More than 100 teens have joined Sugar Rush, with some members staying on even in their 20s, a testament to the long-lasting bonds that have formed.

It runs about two events a year — ranging from those involving physical activity and educational support for diabetes, to foodrelated ones such as sushi- and ice cream-making. Such activities are not only fun, but also educational.

The support group is also a platform to nurture leadership skills in teens with diabetes. Six of the core team members attended the Young Leaders in Diabetes training programme organised by the International Diabetes Federation, where they picked up essential knowledge and later launched the Singapore Diabetes Online Community (SGDoc) — a private Facebook group that is open to anyone suffering from diabetes. Membership in SGDoc has grown to more than 250 since its establishment in September 2014.

Health Peers

Throughout SingHealth, there are many programmes that support diabetes patients of all age groups. One such initiative is the Health Peers programme set up by Changi General Hospital (CGH), in collaboration with South East Community Development Council. It aims to increase awareness about diabetes while encouraging residents to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“This programme extends care for patients beyond the hospitals by harnessing the power of the community. It empowers individuals who have or are at risk of diabetes, as well as their caregivers, families and friends, to manage and prevent diabetes together through lifestyle changes,” said Dr Fadzil Hamzah, Senior Staff Registrar, Sports and Exercise Department, CGH.

What parents should look out for

Symptoms may include urinating more than usual, increased thirst, and sudden weight loss. The child may become very lethargic, and experience a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Consult a doctor should your child have these symptoms. General Practitioners can do a blood sugar test to check for diabetes, and refer your child to KKH if necessary.