To the outside world, Natasha Horne was a popular 20-year-old whose recent weight loss made her seem even more vibrant than usual.
But behind the smiles lay a secret as, just months earlier, the Whale Hill girl had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Headstrong Natasha – known as Tasha – hardly told a soul. And, crucially, she refused to follow the medication rules which would have allowed her to live a full life with the condition.
Tragically, less than a year after diagnosis, she has died after suffering a suspected diabetic coma.
Now her heartbroken parents aim to ensure her death isn’t in vain by spreading awareness of, and raising funds for, diabetes issues.
Sitting in their Fabian Road sitting room, which is packed with beautiful flowers and cards of condolence, Jackie, 43, and rig worker Stephen, 44, talked movingly to Teesside Live about how Tasha’s reluctance to fully acknowledge her diabetes had tragic consequences.
Popular girl who’d do anything for anybody
Born on January 17, 1998 at James Cook University Hospital, Tasha attended Whale Hill Primary and Eston Park Schools where, particularly at secondary school, she was quite the character.
Jackie said: “She was opinionated but she’d do anything for anybody. If friends didn’t have money for lunch at school, she’d buy it for them because she’d rather go without. Everybody knew her. She did what she did and people knew the way she was.”
After leaving school, she briefly went to college and tried various jobs, but was still trying to find her path.
Last year, however, her world turned upside down when Jackie, a pharmacy manager at Lloyds on the Trunk Road, persuaded her to be tested for diabetes.
Through her job knowledge, Jackie saw the signs – things like weight loss, excessive thirst and going to the toilet during the night – and insisted she was tested.
Within hours, on October 16 last year, she’d been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, where her body wasn’t producing enough insulin to combat ketones – organic compounds which usually lie dormant but can attack the body.
Type 1 diabetes is perfectly manageable with regular insulin injections – Teesside singer Amelia Lily is just one high profile person living with it.
But Tasha, although reluctantly cooperative at the start, quickly retreated: “I don’t do needles,” she said.
Not even a special cannular, meaning she didn’t have to insert the needle directly into the skin, helped.
Tash, who was Eston Park prom queen in 2014 but who’d been overweight at school, started losing weight about two years ago – “my first thought was ‘is she taking drugs?’, admitted Jackie. But Jackie and Stephen believe that the weight loss, and the compliments she received, clouded her judgement and made her mistakenly wary of putting weight back on by injecting.
Jackie said: “For a girl covered in tattoos and piercings, she hated needles. And she was stubborn. If she didn’t want to do something, she wouldn’t do it.
“But we were getting so concerned because of the rapidity of the weight loss. She lost around half her body weight in two to three months. And she went from a size 22 to a size 10 in six months but she didn’t see it as wrong.”
With tensions growing at home, she moved in for a time with boyfriend Jordan Rich and his mam to escape what she saw as “nagging” – “she just thought we were having a go at her” – but was actually parents desperately trying to get their daughter to help herself.
Stephen said: “She just didn’t understand the severity of the consequences of not taking it.”
With her body short of the insulin it needed, she had three life-threatening DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) attacks. And after the third on June 8 this year, a desperate Jackie even took the five-year-old sister she doted on, Scarlett, to see her in hospital.
“I told her ‘you are not leaving us to sit with your little sister to tell her that her best friend is no longer here.’ She said she was going to change…
“But she was 20 – she’d passed the legal age, so it was all on her. We didn’t get the phone calls or letters to say she was missing medical appointments. And apart from physically pinning her down, we couldn’t do any more to get her to take it.
“And hardly any of her friends knew. She wouldn’t wear her medical ID bracelet so if they were on a night out and she fell ill, they wouldn’t know to look for an insulin pen.
“She always thought it would never happen to her. She just didn’t want to accept what she had – she was willing to take the risk.
“She thought she was invincible – she lived life her way.”
Natasha Horne family photos
Tragically, while staying overnight at a friend’s house on Saturday, August 22, Tasha died after a suspected diabetic coma.
Some of her organs are being donated for diabetic research – “it was a no-brainer,” says Jackie.
Hundreds of pounds have also been raised for Diabetes UK through a GoFundMe page. And everyone attending her funeral on Thursday, September 6 at 2pm in St Hilda’s Church, Grangetown, will get a Diabetes UK “blue ribbon” to wear.
Acceptance and education
Jackie said: “We’ve got to focus on this now – even if it’s to help the younger generation appreciate the seriousness of it, and not to feel it’s something to be embarrassed about.
“More help for parents would be good too. When a young person is diagnosed, most of the education goes to that person – especially with someone like Tasha because she wasn’t a kid. It’s only because of my job I suspected – that first attack could have been her last.
“It’s all about acceptance and education. You can get it any time in life and it doesn’t have to be hereditary. Even adults are approaching me saying ‘I didn’t know you could die from diabetes.’
“We tried everything we could. Now, while we can’t bring her back, we can help make people aware.
What is Type 1 diabetes?
• It’s a serious, lifelong condition where your blood glucose level is too high because your body can’t make a hormone called insulin.
• About 10% of the 4m people with diabetes in the UK have Type 1, but it got nothing to do with diet or lifestyle – it just happens.
• When you have Type 1 diabetes, your body attacks the cells in your pancreas that make insulin, so you can’t produce it – and we all need insulin to live as it allows the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies.
• Symptoms include going to the toilet a lot, extreme thirst and fatigue and weight loss because, with glucose unable to enter cells to give you energy, the body has to break down fat stores to provide the fuel it needs.
• If you’ve got Type 1 diabetes, you get insulin into your body by injecting it, or using an insulin pump, which delivers a constant supply into you. You also need to check your blood glucose levels are not too low or too high by using a blood glucose testing device several times a day. When you start taking insulin, you’ll begin to feel better and your blood glucose levels will go down.
• With the right treatment and care, the long-term effects of diabetes and high glucose levels can be effectively managed.
“I used to order her medication for her to ensure she had it to hand, then I’d despatch it and bring it home. The one thing I couldn’t do was put it in her body.
“Her death was totally preventable but, looking back, I don’t know what more we could have done.
“Now, if we can save one life, or prevent one set of parents having to go through what we’re going through, it’ll be worth it.
“She’d be horrified we’re telling everybody about it by doing this but if we can save anyone from having to sit here, doing things like this…that’s what we want.
“I’ve referred people through my work and it’s helped them their life. It’s heart-breaking I couldn’t do it for her.”