Made of Tough Midwestern Stock
The middle-aged man who spoke with me could have been your brother, your cousin, your son, or your next door neighbor. Sure, he’d put on a few pounds over the years (who hasn’t?), but nothing that would limit his ability to work, enjoy his family, or pursue the other normal activities of his daily lifestyle. That all changed 13 years ago.
Bill told me he was 51 years old when diabetes turned his world upside down. Made of tough Midwestern stock, he was never the type to get regular check ups, even as youth slowly gave way to middle age. Like many of his generation, he would visit the doctor if something was wrong, but otherwise he’d leave the healthcare system to those people who were truly in need. On a scorching summer day in June 2003, he suddenly became “one of those people.”
After complaining of some reoccurring eye issues which were beginning to cloud his vision, his wife suggested that he make an appointment with the local optometrist to get it checked out. Within minutes of being examined, the doctor identified some tell-tale signs suggesting that there might be some bigger issues to contend with, and urged him to see a specialist.
Less than a week later, the eye specialist examined Bill and gave him the devastating news that the back of his eyes were badly damaged, causing him to see less and less light, and informing him that he was suffering from both retinopathy as well as glaucoma. Bill was immediately put on medication - which helped a little bit for awhile – but because he had waited, and had gone undiagnosed with this condition for so long, the irreversible damage had already been done and his vision had been permanently compromised.
The Real Culprit
During the same month that his eyes were being examined, Bill also got his blood work done for the first time in years, and discovered that while his eyesight was a serious problem, it turns out it was merely a symptom of the underlying cause – diabetes - which had gone undiagnosed for over 5 years. According to his endocrinologist, there are three big warning signs signaling that a patient has an increased likelihood of contracting diabetes:
1. Being over 40
2. Being overweight
3. Having a history of diabetes in the family (heredity)
Unfortunately for Bill, he met all three of these criteria, and shortly after receiving this diagnosis he suffered a major heart attack, resulting in bypass surgery and a lengthy recovery period in the hospital and later at home.
Lessons from Bill’s Diabetes Journey
While Bill has recovered fully from his heart attack and bypass, he was unable to shake off the permanent effects of diabetes on his eyesight, which means that at the relatively young age of 63, he can no longer drive or have the independence and mobility this convenience affords.
Bill lives with the regret of having not been more proactive with regular checkups and blood work evaluations, particularly as his overall health and physical condition began to show signs of deterioration. Had he received a diagnosis of diabetes earlier, there is an excellent chance that he could have retained more of his functional his eyesight, and probably also avoided a heart attack and resulting bypass surgery.
While not eager to share his story, Bill felt compelled to do so in the in the hopes that others might learn from his journey and take steps TODAY to avoid the challenges he’s faced, and while he doesn’t fear diabetes, he has developed a healthy respect for this powerful – yet preventable – disease. As he noted during our discussion, “Nearly everyone can control or prevent diabetes through diet and lifestyle choices, which include healthy foods and exercise. In addition, be sure to partner with both a nutritionist and a qualified physician, and schedule an A1C test every three months to make sure you stay on track.”