One of the North West’s best known entrepreneurs has spoken publicly for the first time about his battle with type 1 diabetes.
Will Lewis is the award-winning founding director of £6m turnover OBI Property and has been involved in some of the biggest tech deals in Manchester.
The 40-year-old was inspired to speak out after philanthropist Steve Morgan recently donated £50m to Diabetes UK and JDRF UK, the largest-ever single gift in the UK for diabetes research.
The £50m will fund the SMF Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge and was prompted by his stepson Hugo, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of seven.
Lewis was himself diagnosed with the condition at the age of 27 after being involved in a stressful legal battle with his previous employers.
He said: “I remember ringing my mum and saying ‘I’ve not even been eating that healthy but my 32 inch waist is now a 30 inch waist’. My suits were hanging off me. I was getting tired.
“One day I got my blood tested and they said I had type 1 diabetes. It was like a bolt out of the blue because there was no history of diabetes in our family.
“When I got diagnosed they couldn’t believe I hadn’t conked out!”
Lewis, who turned 40 in May and has two children aged five and 12, resolved that the condition wouldn’t destroy his life.
“I made sure that my mentality was that diabetes wouldn’t ruin my life or make me think I was going to miss out on things,” he recalls.
“However you do need an extra layer of discipline and sometimes it can get you down. The more you try and control diabetes the more susceptible you are to a hypo.”
A hypo – or hypoglycaemia – is caused when the blood sugar level drops too low.
Lewis said: “I’ve been in a lot of meetings when my brain has suddenly shut down. In my case I start to shake and my brain starts to slow down. It’s horrible.
“At times you’re embarrassed to have them in meetings because you feel it’s a sign of weakness.
“A couple of weeks ago I was presenting to a big corporate occupier with Michael Ingall, chairman and CEO of Allied London. Suddenly I could feel my body starting to slow down. I had to borrow a banana off a security guard and went off to buy some pure orange juice to shoot my blood sugar levels up.”
Lewis uses a glucose monitoring system called Freestyle Libre to track his sugar levels. He wears a sensor on his arm that is linked to an app on the phone and alerts him if he has a problem.
“You try and balance it but it’s a challenge,” he admits. “I played cricket recently for the first time in a long time and my blood sugar levels fell rapidly while I slept.
“If you’ve done sport you probably don’t need as much insulin after your meal because your body is going to work off the glucose anyway.
“I haven’t been very open about my diabetes. There’s probably a lot of people who don’t even realise I’m diabetic.”
Steve Morgan Foundation
Lewis says he decided to speak out after the Steve Morgan Foundation announced a £50m donation to transform the lives of people living with Type 1 diabetes.
“It’s amazing how many people say ‘when you have a hypo I’ll make sure I jab you’,” he explains. “It’s scary because if you have a hypo you need sugar, not insulin.
“People’s understanding of diabetes and how to manage it is very poor. I reckon there are thousands of people out there who don’t realise they’ve got diabetes. That’s why education is so important.
“If you see someone having a hypo on a plane or a bus, having a basic understanding of what to do could save lives.
“I’ve been following what the Steve Morgan Foundation has been doing and I fully support it. It’s brilliant.”