‘My daughter died trying to stay slim’
Nearly three years ago, Middlesbrough local Tasha Horne died at the age of just 20, after falling into a diabetic coma from not taking her insulin. To coincide with Diabetes Week, HLN spoke to her mum, Jackie, about how she’s coped since losing her daughter
By Claire Muffett-Reece
TASHA WAS LOVED BY EVERYONE
‘Growing up, Tasha was a typical teenager – hanging out with friends and spending time with her siblings, Tom and Scarlett. Bubbly and caring, she was always there to help a friend in need. I’ll never forget the time she came home soaked through after giving her coat away during a storm. “Don’t be cross, Mam,” she pleaded, when I asked where it was. “It was pouring down and my friend doesn’t have a coat, but I’ve got loads that I can wear.” That was our Tasha – always putting others first.’
SHE LOST WEIGHT SCARILY FAST
‘Throughout her younger years, Tasha struggled with her weight. By her 18th birthday, she weighed 18 stone and was a size 22. However, I’d educated my children that beauty came from within, so she never seemed bothered by her size.
‘Six months’ later, Tasha and I went shopping as I’d noticed her clothes were too big. By now she was a size 18, but I put it down to her watching what she ate. But as the weeks went by, her weight dropped lower and lower, until she was just under nine stone and wore a size 8-10. I’d noticed she was always thirsty and getting up at night to use the loo, so I started to wonder if diabetes might be the cause. I’d received training in the disease due to my job as a Pharmacy Manager, so I convinced her to get tested.
‘Her blood glucose reading was dangerously high at 28.4mmol/L – for people with diabetes, blood sugar level targets should be 4-7mmol/L before meals and under 9mmol/L after meals. She was sent straight to hospital, where she was confirmed as having Type 1 diabetes.’
WE THOUGHT SHE’D MANAGE DIABETES WELL
‘Although she started off saying she didn’t like needles – coming from a girl who had three tattoos – Tasha seemed to take her diabetes diagnosis in her stride. But she also wasn’t stupid, and soon discovered that weight gain was a common side effect for people taking insulin. She was enjoying all the attention and constant compliments that came with her new shape, so was anxious not to put any of the weight back on.’
TASHA’S ATTITUDE BEGAN TO CHANGE
‘Working in a pharmacy, I was able to help Tasha order her medication, so I knew she’d never run out. At first, she was happy to tell me how she was coping, but after a few weeks she snapped and said her levels were nothing to do with me. Moving out with her boyfriend, she still came home regularly, but I stopped asking about her condition for fear of pushing her away.
‘Then, about eight weeks later, she called in the middle of the night, slurring her words like she was drunk. Her boyfriend said she’d been sick and wasn’t making sense, so she was taken to hospital by ambulance, where she was treated for a diabetic ketoacidosis attack (DKA); a life-threatening complication caused by a lack of insulin in the body.
‘The next day I visited a very weepy Tasha, who said she hadn’t been taking her insulin, again using the excuse of not liking needles. Her diabetes nurse also arrived on the ward while I was there and asked why she hadn’t attended any of her appointments. I was in turmoil – as Tasha was over 18, I had no control over making her go. I begged her to attend and to keep up with her insulin, but over the next six months, Tasha was admitted to hospital two more times with a DKA.’
SHE TOLD ME SHE LOVED ME – I NEVER SAW HER AGAIN
‘On Friday 24th August, 2018, Tasha had an appointment at her GP next to the pharmacy where I worked. She’d been feeling unwell, but assured me it must be the flu – promising she’d been taking her insulin correctly. After her appointment she popped in to say hello, borrowing some money for some jeans she’d had her eye on. “Love you Mam – I’ll see you tomorrow,” she hollered as she raced out the door. That day never came.
‘The next morning, I was at a friend’s house when a Facebook message popped up on my phone from a girl I’d never met before. Reading the words: “Are you Tasha Horne’s mam?”, I quickly typed back, “Yes”, wondering what sort of mischief she’d been up to. The message that pinged back changed my life forever. “Tasha stayed at my parent’s house with my brother last night and it looks like she has died.”
‘I read those words over and over, thinking it must be a prank, before the girl messaged with her number to call. A tearful voice answered, explaining how Tasha had been sick during the night. “She drank some water and told everyone she was going back to sleep, but when we got up the next morning her lips were blue and no-one could wake her.”’
I DROVE TO THE HOUSE IN A DAZE
‘I got in my car and rushed to the address I’d been given, to find two police cars, an ambulance and paramedics outside. I sat in my car for what seemed like forever before a policeman asked if I was Tasha’s mam. Entering the house, I was told they’d been trying to restart her heart for over an hour – and I knew by now it was already too late. A paramedic entered the kitchen, and I could see by the look on his face what he was about to say. They took me upstairs to identify her and there lay my beautiful baby girl, all tucked up in bed. That image will haunt me for the rest of my life.
‘The next few hours were a blur. Tasha’s dad, Stephen, was working offshore – meaning I had to tell him the devastating news over the rig’s radio. I’d already told her brother, Tom, but decided against telling Scarlett until her dad was home. At just five-years old, it was too hard for her to understand.’
THERE WASN’T ENOUGH SEATS AT TASHA’S FUNERAL
‘The days after Tasha died, I couldn’t sleep or eat. I even felt like I was falling out of love with Stephen. I decided to focus on giving Tasha the best send-off possible, calling it her early 21st birthday party. I asked everyone to wear blue – the colour symbolising diabetes – and Stephen and I made blue ribbons for mourners to wear, with voluntary donations to Diabetes UK.
‘On the day itself, the church was fit to burst, even with full standing capacity around the back. During the eulogy, the priest referred to Tasha as Marmite – you either liked her or you didn’t! It was perfect; our Tasha simply wasn’t bothered either way.’
IT HURTS JUST AS MUCH NOW AS THE DAY SHE DIED
‘Today, Stephen and I are in a much better place and Scarlett can openly talk about Tasha without getting upset. Tom has also grown into a wonderful young man and has a new job, which he loves. Scarlett visits Tasha’s grave with me every Sunday and we talk about her all the time. She remembers everything about her wonderful older sister, from her false tan and hair extensions to their girlie nights at home.
‘As a Mam, I’m still devastated and I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. Every day I wish things were different: the pain is still as raw as the day Tasha died. I just wish a law could be passed so that young adults could be monitored more closely in terms of their diabetes, with their parents or next of kin informed if they miss an appointment.’
DIABETES ISN’T EMBARRASSING
‘Since Tasha’s death, I’ve thrown myself into educating the younger generation about diabetes. Stephen and I, along with my amazing workmates, Team Trunk, have held many fundraising events, along with the support from Tyler Anderson, Diabetes UK’s North East Regional Fundraiser. To date we’ve raised over £6,500 – and we’re not stopping there.
‘I’m also determined to eradicate the stigma there is surrounding young people diagnosed with diabetes. Tasha was embarrassed about her condition and refused to tell anyone – she wouldn’t even wear the medical ID bracelet I got her, which could have saved her life.
‘If I can say one thing to any parent whose child has diabetes, it’s this – please talk to them, listen to their concerns and educate yourself on the signs. I might not be able to get my Tasha back, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference and help your child live a long and happy life.’
Concerned a friend or family member could be living with undiagnosed diabetes? Encourage them to visit their GP or local pharmacy for advice and visit Diabetes UK for more information.
This feature was written by Claire Muffett-Reece, a freelance journalist and Tasha Horne’s cousin. Her fee for this article has been donated in its entirety to Diabetes UK. To donate yourself, please click here.