Celebrity News

Vince Harder’s heartbreak over his daughter’s deadly diagnosis

The singer and his wife Abby reveal their daughter’s terrifying health crisis

One minute, gorgeous little Presley was like any other one-year-old girl, singing, watching The Lion King and chasing after big brother Jaxon. The next moment, the toddler’s parents, popstar Vince Harder and his musician wife Abby, faced a shocking diagnosis that meant their daughter faced a lifetime of needles, caution and monitoring – without which, her life would be at risk.

“The biggest shock was that we had a perfectly normal child a week earlier, then suddenly they’re telling us she’s got this chronic condition we have to keep on top of for the rest of her life,” Abby says of hearing that Presley has type 1 diabetes, an incurable autoimmune condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin, which the body needs to process blood sugar.

“It was daunting realising that this was going to be forever. I started looking at her whole life, thinking, ‘How will we deal with teenage years? Can she ever go to the movies and eat endless M&M’s? Can she ever have a day off?'”

Abby and Vince won’t let type 1 diabetes stop Presley from achieving her dreams.

Fourteen months on, Abby, 35, and Popstars panellist Vince, 39, have accepted Presley can’t take days off from being diabetic, but they also know she’s capable of living a relatively normal life – including occasional lolly binges – as long as her insulin’s managed accordingly.

Diabetes never occurred to the couple when Presley, now two, developed a fever during our level three lockdown in May 2020. In the coming days, she became incredibly thirsty, wet through her nappies, constantly slept, experienced vomiting and diarrhoea, and lost weight. After visits to three different doctors over five days, the medical professionals suspected a virus or gastro bug.

But after her breathing became stuttered, Presley ended up in Auckland’s Waitakere Hospital, where Abby witnessed seven horrifying attempts to insert a drip into her severely dehydrated, screaming toddler. Abby recalls, “It was the scariest moment – she just wasn’t herself.”

With diabetes looking likely, Presley was transferred to Starship children’s hospital, spending two nights in the paediatric intensive care unit, receiving fluids and insulin, but remaining sleepy.

Peace of mind: Presley wears a sensor on her arm that reads her glucose levels.

As doctors continued jabbing and prodding, Abby broke down, crying out, “You can’t prick her fingers any more! They’re already calloused and cut. There’s no more space!”

Abby and Vince were relieved when Presley finally perked up, and doctors later confirmed her diagnosis, explaining she’d been in “severe” diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal state. Abby tells, “Our reaction was, ‘She doesn’t eat sugar! How did she get diabetes?'”

“Even family members asked, ‘What have you been feeding her?'” adds Vince, who has two daughters from a previous relationship, Cadence, 16, and Yanique, 15, who feature on a children’s EP he’s working on. The following days were spent learning to handle blood glucose tests and insulin injections.

“We had to get over the fact we were hurting our child by injecting her,” says Abby.

Rather than being overwhelmed, the doting parents are raising funds for diabetes sufferers.

Determined to do their best for their daughter, she and Vince invested in a $100 glucose monitor, as well as a $98-a-fortnight sensor that was inserted in Presley’s arm to relay her glucose levels.

While it meant she needs fewer prick tests, Presley still required up to 15 of these jabs daily, as well as insulin injections, over the subsequent months, which were full of sleepless nights for her mum and dad. “We’d wake ourselves every hour to check her levels,” says Vince.

“Or we wouldn’t sleep because we’d stress,” adds Abby. “If her levels go low and we leave them, she could become unconscious and die.”

It’s why Abby and Vince forked out another $250 for a transmitter, which sends details of Presley’s glucose levels directly to the concerned parents’ phones, sounding an alarm if she requires attention.

Fortunately, in June, government funding came through for Presley’s belt-like insulin pump, which she wears around her waist at all times, except during heavy physical activity. (Four-year-old Jaxon initially wore a belt too, so the siblings could feel united as Presley adjusted to it.)

The pump attaches to a needle in her bottom, which communicates with a brand-new continuous glucose monitor (CGM), administering insulin as required, and giving Vince and Abby peace of mind, as well as much-needed sleep.

Seeing their baby girl so ill was terrifying for the couple.

Unfortunately, the $391-per-month CGM isn’t funded, which has led Diabetes NZ to petition the government. “They’re a life-changer,” says Abby of the devices.

Nodding, Vince adds, “As parents, all we want is for our kids is to grow up healthy and strong.”

While the new CGM is helping Presley do so, Abby and Vince still face challenges. They must enter everything she eats into her device, so the correct insulin can be administered, and they’re extra-cautious of sick days, with Presley hospitalised in February with a tummy bug that had the potential to dangerously impact her blood glucose levels.

Then there’s the frustrating stigma of diabetes. Abby sighs, “People say, ‘She can’t have cake!’ and take it from her, but we’re trying to give her a normal childhood. She can have cake – we just need to calculate insulin accordingly.”

The hardest part is that diabetes “never goes away”, says Abby, adding that her mother is the only person the couple feel comfortable leaving Presley with – although both she and Vince still checked her blood glucose levels from their phones throughout a recent movie date!

“Without CGMs, we would never leave her,” tells Abby. “Knowing you’ll get an alarm if anything’s wrong gives peace of mind. It’s disheartening not everyone can access them.”

That’s why proceeds from Abby and Vince’s new single Overwhelmed will go to Diabetes NZ to help the more than 26,000 Kiwis who have been diagnosed with type 1.

The couple – who met at a 2010 Backstreet Boys concert and wed in 2014 – co-wrote the sweet track for their kids, and hope it raises awareness and funds, so everyone who needs one can access the same CGM that’s enabled Presley to enjoy a normal upbringing.

“We wanted her to be a child first and a diabetic second,” says Abby. “She’ll always have to be more prepared, organised and aware, but diabetes doesn’t stop her doing anything. There’s All Blacks, pilots and musicians who have type 1. As a parent, you want to support your child the best you can – these devices help us do that.”

Tune in for change

Vince and Abby’s song Overwhelmed is now out on all major music platforms – please download it to support Diabetes NZ. For the music video and interviews with other type 1 families, visit diabetes.org.nz or facebook.com/diabetesnz

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