As today is World Diabetes Day and this years theme is Family & Diabetes it seems like a good time to remind you of this amazing personal story from our own Jane Greenshields…

‘Help I can’t see out of my right eye’

This is the phone call I received from my partner Stuart 2 years ago when I was at work.
We went straight to accident and emergency, but we were told that they were not eye specialists and an appointment would have to be made.
This process took several weeks and in the meantime, we were left not knowing what was the cause.

Eventually we found out that Stuart had diabetic retinopathy caused by very poorly managed type 2 diabetes and a complication of high cholesterol and the prognosis was not good.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels which weaken and damage the small blood vessels within the retina. This may cause hemorrhages, exudates and even swelling of the retina which will eventually lead to blindness. It is a complication of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Stuart’s sudden blindness was caused by a blood vessel bursting in the eye and it did eventually clear but happened again in the other eye. This process repeated several times and was extremely distressing.

The treatment for advanced retinopathy is initially laser treatment which is very uncomfortable and the long-term risks of the laser treatment are loss of peripheral vision but this is the lesser of the 2 evils.

This process has been a journey for both of us, the implications of blindness are catastrophic. The immediate shock and emotional implications such as depression, the loss of work, loss of income and for Stuart loss of one of his biggest passions riding his motorbike.

Stuart gained considerable weight in his 20’s and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his 30’s. He later developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol and took medication for all of these conditions. My personal belief is that he was totally addicted to sugar, he has always been an all or nothing type of person. On all of the occasions that Stuart had a bleed in his eye he had eaten too much sugar shortly before and the association could no longer be ignored.

Stuart is now in his mid 50’s and when the realisation finally hit home that the retinopathy could have been avoided but there was still a chance to avoid complete blindness it was thankfully the kick start he needed to made some radical lifestyle changes and with diet and exercise and he has lost 5.5 stone.
Apart from enjoying his new body shape his blood pressure is now normal, his cholesterol is normal, and his diabetes is under control.

At this point however, as far as the retinopathy is concerned, we still don’t really know if it’s too little too late, time will tell.

I don’t know if what Stuart knows now would have made him change his lifestyle much sooner. It’s easy to think it will never happen to you and stick your head in the sand but I hope his story will highlight just one of the serious risks of ignoring diabetes and moreover it is not that uncommon.

I would urge anyone with type 2 diabetes to have regular eye screening tests, do not continually miss appointments at the diabetes clinic (Stuart!) and do everything possible to get blood sugar and weight under control because loss of vision is terrifying.

One of our inspirations was Michael Moseleys 8-week blood sugar diet book which is hardcore, but we followed it to the letter (with a lot of complaining in the early days). Stuart lost about 2 stone in this time frame but more than that his GP couldn’t believe the incredible results of a follow up blood test and actually rang him to find out what had happened!

Please don’t wait till it’s too late, type 2 diabetes is still considered to be a silent killer and there are so many risks including cardiovascular disease leading to heart attack and stroke, damage to the brain, kidneys, skin, sexual organs, skin teeth, gums the list goes on.

The good news is type 2 diabetes can be cured, even reversed in some cases so take the time to invest in your health. The lifestyle change will take a bit of getting used to but when you see and feel the benefits there will be no going back.

Jane Greenshields

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