SIYAPREET - Portraits of Diabetes

Siyapreet Brar staring at the camera.


Type 1 diabetes - diagnosed 2016

Never did I ever imagine such a young child, so active being diagnosed-there's always the stereotypical thing, where you think it can't happen to healthy people.
- Siyapreet's father Raj

It was barely the beginning of summer break, but eight-year-old Siyapreet Brar was already preparing for the third grade by collecting the pencils and art supplies she would need for the upcoming school year. Her most recent report card was full of As, including one grade she proudly explains she was able to improve.

But she wasn't just excited about school itself; she was also looking forward to spending more time with her best friend, Sarah, as the two share a special bond. Both eight-year-olds have type 1 diabetes-Sarah was diagnosed a few months before Siyapreet-and they've been able to navigate the difficult experience together, while educating their classmates about a disease that even many adults struggle to understand.

"We're in sync and if ever she gets hurt, I help her. She says, 'If ever you get shaky, just tell me, and I'll bring you right away to the classroom,' " says Siyapreet.

On World Diabetes Day in 2016, Siyapreet was able to show her appreciation for their friendship. After winning the Alberta Diabetes Foundation's colouring contest, Siyapreet asked Sarah to share the reward-and the friends were junior researchers for a day at the Alberta Diabetes Institute. They met world-renowned researchers and even had a chance to partake in some research themselves in a behind-the-scenes look at the institute's cutting-edge facilities.

The support of doctors and researchers has made a huge difference for the Brar family, who were shocked when Siyapreet was diagnosed at the age of six. "Never did I ever imagine such a young child, so active [being diagnosed]-there's always the stereotypical thing, where you think it can't happen to healthy people. But it just happened all of a sudden," says Siyapreet's father Raj.

After a routine diagnosis, explains Raj, the doctor immediately admitted Siyapreet to the Stollery Children's Hospital, where she stayed for three days to be treated and monitored. "It was phenomenal to know your whole life was turned upside down, but you have people who can guide you through, walk you through," says Raj.

At the same time, Siyapreet was diagnosed with celiac disease, which can occur in conjunction with type 1 diabetes. Both are autoimmune disorders that are a result of the body's immune system attacking healthy cells. Her celiac disease is severe, which means any type of cross-contamination between a product with gluten and one without can negatively affect her health.

"I even have my own separate toaster and my own frying pan and my own waffle iron, and my own butter. And there's my own section where I put my gluten-free stuff in the fridge and my own peanut butter, and my own jelly and everything (that is) my own," says Siyapreet.

Over the past year, she's gained a great deal of knowledge about both conditions, which is obvious as she lists the many products she can eat and the ways she keeps herself safe, and demonstrates how she can read her blood glucose monitor. "It has a red light, a blue light and a green light," she explains. "Red is for high, blue is for low, green is for good."

The Alberta Diabetes Institute continues its relentless pursuit of the discovery of new therapies and methods to prevent, treat and ultimately cure diabetes.

Photography: Richard Siemens Writer: Caroline Barlott Editor: Sasha Roeder Mah Creative Director: MJ Fell

SIYAPREET & Dr Peter Light

Peter Light sitting next to a standing Siyapreet.