Shane Dunbar-Reid has no doubts - without vigilance, regular monitoring of his macula, some hard lifestyle changes and aggressive treatment, he would be blind.
“Back when I was young, I didn’t want to know I had diabetes; I didn’t change my lifestyle. Then I got all the worst symptoms you can get for diabetes.
“But my diabetes is controlled now… my feet have no feeling – I nearly lost my big toe – but my eyes are good and my health is good. I’m enjoying life. I surf a lot. I had a surf today and it was magic.”
The story could have been so different.
Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes when he was 19 years old, Shane - perhaps typically for a teenager - thought he was bullet proof. He took some tablets but made no other efforts to control his diabetes. “If I’d known more about the problems associated with diabetes when I was young, I might have taken a different approach to my health.”
Then, in his 30s, things went pear-shaped. On a holiday in Thailand, he woke to a bloody foot. He’d developed a diabetic ulcer under his big toe.
“I went to a high risk wound clinic. They put me on insulin and as soon as they put me on it, my diabetes got better but I nearly lost my big toe.”
By another stroke of good fortune, Shane, who was living in Byron Bay at the time, had a mate who was an optometrist. “He kept telling me to watch my eyes. Every six months he would give me a full-on eye exam. He just kept telling me, ‘mate you’ve got to watch it, you’ve got to watch it’.
Shane and his family moved away from Byron but returned for a Christmas holiday, and made an appointment for a macula check.
“I’d noticed some blurry vision when I was driving and because I was back in Byron Bay on holidays at Christmas, I saw my optometrist mate. He found some spots in the back of my eye and sent me for treatment straight away. My wife and I were totally spinning out and he was saying ‘mate, you’ve got to get back and get this done (treated) straight away’.
Shane had diabetic macular edema, a form of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working age adults in Australia. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Most people with diabetic retinopathy should keep most, if not all vision, providing it is diagnosed early and all steps are taken to keep it under control.Sight saving treatment
Shane said his ophthalmologist started an aggressive regime of treatment. “He was treating it like a bushfire. He was just hitting it with everything to put it out.”
The treatment regime continues to this day. Shane has gone from monthly injections to six weekly injections and says his right eye is good. While there is a little concern about his left eye, it has settled with treatment.
“My sight is good. But back in the day, if we hadn’t treated it so aggressively when we found it, I would be blind now. But now, I’m still driving. Reading is fine – it doesn’t worry me. I do wear sunnies a lot and I know my sugar levels affect my eyes. My diabetes is controlled now. I have blood tests every six months and I have a diabetic sensor on my arm which scans my blood sugars 100 times a day. It really makes me think before I eat something bad.”
Shane says while he tries to educate friends and acquaintances with diabetes about the importance of vigilance, sadly, they sometimes don’t want to make the hard lifestyle choices to maintain their health.
“Get checked. Don’t put it off. Visit the doctor as much as you can. Watch your day to day lifestyle.
“You’ve got to enjoy your life. I surf a lot with my son. I have a 13-year-old son, a 14-year-old daughter and a wife. We live a beach lifestyle. I’ve got a happy family and, for me, it is about getting out there and being active. I want to see my kids growing up.
“Mate, you’ve got to look towards the future, not live day-to-day. You’ve got to change your lifestyle. It is hard. But I didn’t change my lifestyle when I was younger, and I got all those problems. “Get checked. Don’t put it off. Visit the doctor as much as you can. Watch your day to day lifestyle.”