A devastated sister today revealed her brother “died of shame” from a complication of diabetes as he kept the condition hidden from friends and tried to live like them.
Robert Riley, 23, of Leyland, Preston, had been admitted to hospital several times in the months before his death because of dangerously high sugar levels.
A lot of his friends didn’t know he had diabetes because he was ashamed of having to inject.Karen Hutchinson
His sister Karen Hutchinson, 37, of Buckshaw Village, near Chorley, and one of Robert’s best friends, Jodie-Lee Parker, are now aiming to spread the word about diabetes among young people so they don’t feel it is something to hide.
Karen said: “A lot of his friends didn’t know he had diabetes because he was ashamed of having to inject.”
Crouching over to inject himself, Robert Riley would furtively look around to make sure there were no prying eyes.
Looking at the shame and fear shadowing his face, anyone watching would imagine Robert was injecting himself with illegal drugs rather than the
insulin needed to control his
diabetes and keep him alive.
Robert, 23, who lived in Leyland, died after collapsing at home a year ago from a serious complication of diabetes caused by a severe lack of insulin in his body.
His death came as a huge shock to his friends and family – some of who either didn’t know Robert had diabetes or didn’t realise how serious it was because Robert always played it down or brushed it aside.
Robert’s sister Karen Hutchinson and his friend Jodie-Lee Parker are now speaking out about Robert’s untimely death in the hope of raising awareness about the seriousness of diabetes to other young people and why they should not try to hide the condition or live life
They also believe more needs to be done to increase education about diabetes so sufferers find it acceptable to take their medication and not feel they have to hide it.
Karen, 37, who is married to Paul and lives in Buckshaw Village, near Chorley, with their three children Louis, nine, Elsie, seven, and Elliott, four, explains: “Robert was only 11 when he was diagnosed with diabetes and he was put on insulin injections immediately.
“Robert struggled a lot with his diabetes. He found it difficult at that age when all his friends could eat anything they wanted.
“A lot of Robert’s friends didn’t even know Robert had
diabetes because he was ashamed of having to inject himself and kept it a secret.”
Robert had a turbulent start to life and was adopted by his mum at the age of about two
after she initially fostered him.
Smiling wistfully, Karen says Robert instantly became part of the family.
Karen, who also has two older brothers and a younger sister, recalls: “My mum fostered children for years and she
began fostering Robert when he was six months old.
“Robert was taken off his birth mother as she was an
“When Robert was about two, my mum got a phone call saying they had found someone who wanted to adopt Robert.
“My mum was devastated and asked if she could adopt him. He was already part of the family and when he was adopted it seemed the natural thing.
“I was particularly close to Robert and we spent a lot of time with each other.”
When Robert was about six, his family moved to Scotland and Robert experienced problems with bullying at school. He was also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Karen says: “Robert was bullied when we lived in Scotland for being English. He also had problems with settling in class because of his ADHD.
“My dad died in 2001 and, a couple of years after that, we moved back to Leyland.”
Robert, who was a pupil at Balshaw’s High School, was
diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 11 after he kept falling asleep and suffering from sickness.
Karen remembers: “We took Robert to hospital as he kept being sick and he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“His blood sugar level was 31, which is dangerously high. Doctors told us that if we hadn’t taken him to hospital when we did, Robert would have gone into a coma and died.”
Karen admits her brother struggled to cope with his diabetes and as he got older, he
became more reckless with the condition and developed a particular fondness for sugary energy drinks.
She explains: “Everyone goes through a rebellious stage in their teens and Robert’s was thinking: ‘I can do this’ and drinking lots of sugary drinks not realising the damage he was doing to his body.
“I remember going into his room once and finding lots of empty cans of energy drinks and Pepsi. Robert liked to keep up with his friends and do the same things as them.”
After school, Robert went to Runshaw College and studied art and design and had a bar job for a while. However, he began struggling to control his diabetes and found it difficult to get a job.
Karen says: “Before his death, Robert had been admitted to hospital about four times over the course of eight months because of problems with his diabetes and dangerously high sugar levels.
“He had to have saline drips to be hydrated and they did regular checks on how his insulin was working on his blood sugar levels.
“About a month before his death, they changed Robert’s insulin because the other one wasn’t working properly for him.
“Robert also complained of chest pains and was shaking a lot. He was also on anti-depressants for depression brought on by not being able to control his diabetes.
“There is quite a lot of depression among people with diabetes. Insulin levels going up and down affects the chemicals in your brain.
“Robert probably wasn’t taking as much care of himself as he should have been. But I do think there were a number of signs that something was not right with his diabetes control and with him being admitted to hospital several times, I do think doctors should have picked up on something.”
In March last year, Karen received a worried phone call from her mum who explained she wasn’t able to get hold of Robert.
Karen explains: “Robert was living in a flat in Leyland with his dog and two cats and my mum usually spoke to him two or three times a day.
“On this particular day, my mum wasn’t able to get an
answer from Robert and rang me up all concerned. She had spoken to Robert the night before and he had told her he was not feeling well.”
Karen’s husband and older brother went round to Robert’s to see if everything was OK. They knocked on the door, but there was no answer. As they couldn’t even hear the dog barking, they presumed Robert had taken the dog for a walk.
A neighbour told them she had seen Robert going to the shop around the corner that morning.
Karen says: “I called my mum and told her we couldn’t get hold of Robert. My mum then went round herself and, because there was still no sign of Robert, she rang the police and asked them to break the door down to gain access as it was out of character for Robert to go missing and she was worried as she knew he hadn’t been feeling well.”
The police broke the door down and they found Robert lying dead on the floor like he had collapsed. He died a month before his 24th birthday.
Karen recalls: “I felt disbelief at first. I thought it couldn’t possibly be true.
“When I realised it was true, I felt a mixture of emotions. Part of me felt angry with Robert. For someone that young to die, I thought he must not have been looking after himself properly.
“I felt devastated and lost.
“It was the thought of Robert being alone when he died that hit me the hardest. He was found on the floor with his dog beside him.”
Karen described Robert as being “someone who always thought of others before himself”. She says: “Robert just made me laugh all the time. He had such a cheeky smile and liked making people laugh and was always the life and the soul of the party. Robert loved skateboarding and BMXing and had silly dreams about being the next big thing.
“Before his death, Robert had been struggling with his diabetes and depression.
“He was in hospital so many times, it should have been a sign that something was drastically wrong. I feel Robert’s death could have been prevented and that doctors should have picked something up.
“I think young people should be helped and supported with diabetes a lot more.
“Robert was only 11 when he was diagnosed and he found it hard to come to terms with it.
“He felt he could not inject in front of anyone as he didn’t want to look like he was taking drugs. A lot of young people associate injecting with drug-taking.
“I think things like a social group for young people with diabetes would be a good idea so they feel like they are not alone.
“I want there to be more awareness about diabetes and for more information to be given to young people so they realise how serious the condition is.”
I am doing the run for Robert. I know it is too late for him, but it might help other young people by raising awareness
Jodie-Lee Parker had been friends with Robert since the age of about 12 and was so close to him, she would call him her brother.
Jodie-Lee, 22, who lives in Clayton-le-Woods, near Leyland, says: “We met when we were kids hanging around in Leyland and there was a huge group of us who would get together.
“I stayed really close friends with Robert and another lad, Dale, and used to introduce them to people as my brothers.
“They were a bit older than me and used to look after me like they were my brothers and picked me up when I was going through any teenage dramas.
“Rob’s aim seemed to be to make everyone else around him feel better.
“As we grew up, we always kept in touch and met up every couple of weeks.
“I knew Robert had diabetes from a young age.
“However, he always played it down and made it seem not as serious as it was. He was always very secretive about his diabetes as he wanted to be like everyone else.
“When Robert drank energy drinks, we would tell him he shouldn’t be drinking them because of his diabetes and he would make a joke out of it.
“I didn’t realise how serious diabetes was until Robert got so sick. He was in and out of hospital three or four times before he passed away.
“His death was a complete shock. I had a phone call from another friend telling me that Robert had died and I pretty much told her she was a liar.
“I kept saying: ‘He’s too young’ and was in complete denial.
“When it finally sank in that Robert had gone, I felt I should have understood his diabetes more and kept thinking about what could have been done to prevent his death.
“When Robert was younger, I just thought: ‘He has diabetes’ without realising the implications for his life.
“I think there should be more education in schools and that more children should be made aware of diabetes and how serious it is.
“This would make it more acceptable for people to take their medication without thinking it has to be a hidden thing.”
Jodie-Lee will be taking part in the Great Manchester Run on Sunday May 10 in memory of Robert and is aiming to raise £200 for Diabetes UK.
She explains: “After Robert’s death, I felt helpless and wanted to understand more about diabetes and came across Diabetes UK.
“Diabetes is sometimes overlooked and a lot of young people think they are invincible.
“Even though it is a struggle living with diabetes, they have to be sensible.
“I am doing the run for Robert. I know it is too late for him, but it might help other young people by raising awareness.
“I want to raise money for Diabetes UK so they can continue to support all the people living with diabetes and help them manage their condition as well as funding new research.”
l To sponsor Jodie, visit: www.justgiving.com/jodieparker54 or alternatively text TGMR54 followed by the amount.
l To sign up or run for Diabetes UK, visit: www.diabetes.org.uk/Get_involved/Fundraising-events/Great-Run-Series/Great-Manchester-Run