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Last Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006, 00:51 GMT
'Teen rebellion cost me my sight'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Sarah Caltieri. Photo Credit: John Minoprio
Sarah is now registered blind
Sarah Caltieri is certain her teenage rebellion cost her sight.

A type 1 diabetic since the age of seven, she and her family had always taken care to ensure she checked her blood sugar levels and had her injections on time.

But when she hit puberty she started to react against her regimented lifestyle.

Sarah wanted to become a performing artist and believed she was competing in an industry that rated thinness above all other qualities.


Sarah, now 27, and from London, started taking risks, such as missing out on meals, and developed an eating disorder.

Her sugar levels went haywire and Sarah's diabetes started spiralling out of control as she did untold damage to her body.

You never think it will happen to you
Sarah Caltieri

"Because my life was so centred around eating, I thought I would not make it in my chosen career because you have to be skinny," she said.

"I was warned about the complications that could happen if I carried on, but you never think it will happen to you.

"I wasn't realising the damage I was doing to my body. It's not something that was at the forefront of my mind.

"It was the fact that I was fat. I needed to be thin to be a singer and to be an actor.

"And that was the only way I was going to make it."

Damaged retina. Photo Credit: Paul Parker/SPL
The retina is damaged when blood vessels haemorrhage

Sarah started starving herself and bingeing - and missing injections.

She lost weight, but found her sugar-level problems meant she could not concentrate on learning her lines or singing so had to put her career on hold.

One day she felt really ill at work and was hit with the realisation that if she did not act soon she could die.

"I think that was the point when I said to myself: 'Right, I need help'."


Sarah went for counselling, got her blood-sugars under control and started feeling better.

But her sight had been badly affected and deteriorated to the point that she had to be registered blind.

Her kidneys were also damaged, but they have since recovered.

Ironically this was when Sarah decided to pursue her performing arts career full-on and has played a number of lead roles.

Although delighted with her success Sarah said she is determined not to get pigeon-holed into just playing disabled people.

She is also determined her experiences should help others and so introduced and featured on the newly launched diabetes section of special website Youth Health Talk, to help young people learn about their health from their peers.


Dr Ann McPherson, medical director and co-founder of Youth Health Talk and an Oxford GP, said the site was a valuable resource for young people wanting to hear about the experiences of others.

"During the teenage years, people find it very difficult to manage and I think it is important for them to be able to get help from someone other than a professional.

"I know from my own experiences in dealing with teenagers with diabetes, that they want to be the same as everybody else."

She said young people on the site discussed their experiences of diabetes and managing injections as well as the effects of alcohol and contraception.

A spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) said the site should provide a good place for teenagers to share experiences.

"We hope it will be a useful online resource for young people with type 1 diabetes to find out how others live with their condition and that it will provide support to them.

"While the aim of JDRF is to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, it is important that people with diabetes have access to resources and information that will help them to live lives less severely affected by the condition until we have that cure."

Cathy Moulton, care advisor at Diabetes UK, said: "Managing diabetes can be particularly difficult for teenagers.

"As it's the most common age for the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, many youngsters will not only be dealing with the usual teenage issues, but also struggling to come to terms with their condition.

"The Youth Talk website is an excellent way to not only raise awareness of diabetes, but to also help teenagers learn from others in the same position. It is a great source of information and includes useful signposts to other areas of support."

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