Elissa Renouf is a mother of five, director of her own company and in charge of running her family farm. On top of this, four of her children suffer from Type 1 Diabetes.
Elissa and rugby league legend Steve Renouf fell in love in Grade 11 at school back in Murgon where they both grew up. After securing a contract with the Brisbane Broncos, Steve moved to Brisbane, followed shortly afterwards by Elissa, who was undertaking her hairdressing apprenticeship. The two married at the ripe age of 19 and Steve continued to focus on his football career (they separated last year).
“We had our first baby when we were just 22,” Elissa says, “and I was pretty much a stay-at-home mum then.” It wasn’t until after the birth of their first son that Steve, at age 22, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, an auto-immune disease far more commonly diagnosed in young children.
While coming to terms with this diagnosis and concern for her children’s future health, Elissa enquired with doctors about the likelihood of the disease being genetic, and was assured there was only a five to ten per cent chance it would be passed on. Shortly following the birth of their daughter Sunita, however, the family was dealt another serious blow. “After our third child I ended up with Graves’ disease, which is an overactive thyroid. It’s in the same family as diabetes, it’s an auto-immune disease.”
The children went through regular testing and within two years, Billy, Charlie and Freddie were all diagnosed with Type 1, followed by Sam, slightly later than the other boys at the age of 16. Their daughter Sunita has so far avoided contracting the illness but may develop it later on.
Type 1 Diabetes affects the lives of 120,000 Australians and can be something of a life-sentence for sufferers, who are required to regularly inject themselves with insulin up to four times a day, as well as undergo consistent glucose tests. One can only imagine the level of strain this would put on young parents with a child suffering, let alone four. In spite of this, Elissa maintains an incredibly positive outlook on her situation. “Diabetes is quite controllable,” she says. “You know, there are a lot of other diseases, I feel, that we can’t really control. Diabetes we can manage.”
Elissa knew that her family had a difficult path ahead, however was able to adjust her lifestyle around the illness and even become a little bit creative with her daily duties as a mother and carer. She was even able to see gaps in the market for products to ease the life of a sufferer. “When the three of them were diagnosed, just getting three kids to wash their hands before I actually tested them was huge, because it’s bad enough just testing them. What I ended up doing was cutting up a whole heap of Chux wipes and putting them in a little pill box to keep in their bag and I just saw how useful that was and how much easier it made life. I thought surely other people would use and need this as well so I ended up going and getting a designer to help me do drawings.”
In 2004 she founded her own company, Diabete-Ezy, to design and distribute products to sufferers to provide convenience and assist with their management of the disease. Products on the website include cases for equipment, cleaning wipes, dog tags, record books, insulin pump equipment and much more. “It was really hard to get our kids into school and day care after they were diagnosed because as a first time parent of someone with type 1, you don’t even know how to look after your child, let alone help someone else how to look after your child.”
From there, Diabete-Ezy developed easy-to-read, individually tailored management plans for their customers, designed for use in schools, daycares, nursing homes and workplaces.
Today Elissa continues to educate herself on the disease, regularly attending conferences, providing up-to-date information for her clients and constantly introducing new products to meet their demands. One of the most important lessons she shares with parents is to not blame diabetes for their problems.
“I try and look at it very positively, because the way that I handle it is the way that the children are going to handle it for the rest of their lives.”