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    Susan’s story: Don’t just treat your diabetes

    Make sure you get your eyes checked as well.

    Susan Harvey

    Diagnosis too late to save sight

    Susan Harvey wishes she’d never ignored her eyes.

    At 65, she has lived with type 2 diabetes for six years and has lost significant vision due to diabetic eye disease. Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of blindness and serious vision loss in working aged Australians.

    If Susan had had regular eye tests throughout her adult life, it is possible that an optometrist would have picked up the onset of diabetic eye disease even before the symptoms of diabetes emerged. Something could have been done to save her sight.

    Susan’s diagnosis of type 2 diabetes came as a surprise. This is despite the fact that both her mother and her uncle had developed the disease in later life. “I woke up one day and my foot was so swollen I couldn’t stand on it. I called a taxi and took myself off to hospital. After blood tests and X-rays, they told me I had diabetes,” she said.

    Sudden change in vision

    “Each day I’d walk down to the café, buy a paper and take it back to my room to read. One day I just couldn’t read the print,” she said. “It was as rapid as that.”

    That was in 2009. Susan said that at the time, it seemed that no one was really able to inform her about the risks to vision loss associated with diabetes. “It’s getting better. But back then, while I was in hospital, no-one could tell me what was going on with my sight.”

    Following her discharge from hospital, Susan was referred to a doctor who specialised in diabetes. From there she began to make regular trips to see an eye specialist.

    “I went to see an optometrist who referred me on to an ophthalmologist. He told me that my eyes had been so badly damaged at that stage that he couldn’t do anything to return my vision.

    “Now, every six months, my ophthalmologist tests my macula and I have to read the eye chart. Nine times out of 10, he takes photos of the back of my eye to check the swelling.

    Susan has had eye surgery three times since 2009 to control the bleeding at the back of her eye. “I’ve had needles, laser surgery and both my eyes operated on. But I have never regained my full vision,” she said.

    “I can’t emphasis enough: if you have diabetes, don’t just treat your diabetes. Make sure you have your eyes checked regularly. I just wish that years ago I’d have been aware of the risks and had my eyes tested. Then I’d have known something was wrong and my sight could have been saved.


    Susan’s story featured in Body+Soul on 22 February 2015
    Photo credited to Body+Soul: Rohan Kelly

    Posted: 8 April 2016

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