Diabetes leads to vision loss for NLIP student
Rick Garrick — Wawatay News
Native Language Instructors Program fourth-year student Martin Tuesday is determined to complete his studies even though he has difficulty seeing due to complications from diabetes.
“I’m behind in my work right now but I want to finish the NLIP,” Tuesday said. “It’s very hard for me in class right now because I can’t see as a result of my diabetes. I can’t see with my left eye and part of my right eye.”
Tuesday first developed diabetes about 27 years ago, but after following a traditional healer’s treatment, he overcame the disease.
“It wasn’t until I was about 38 years old that I got diabetes,” Tuesday said. “I had it really bad — it was really high.”
Tuesday changed his life around after being diagnosed with diabetes by giving up alcohol, changing his diet and taking to exercise.
“I quit alcohol all together, just cold turkey, no treatment,” Tuesday said. “Just my tobacco, and my wife and my family, that’s all that helped me.”
Tuesday said the healer counselled him spiritually, emotionally and physically, encouraged him not to eat certain foods and provided a traditional medicine treatment.
“And he told me ‘don’t eat sugar,’” Tuesday said. “And don’t take any alcohol, not even a sip of alcohol.”
Tuesday said his blood sugar level dropped to about 4 after following the healer’s advice and treatment for about two weeks.
“When I saw my family doctor, he said ‘I don’t think you have diabetes,’” Tuesday said. “It was like that for 10 years.”
After 10 years, Tuesday quit checking his blood sugar.
“In 1997, it came back with a vengeance,” Tuesday said. “And then I couldn’t control it. A lot of things were happening at that time too in my family — I had to quit everything to look after my grandchildren.”
After a year, he studied at college and went to work at Wawatay Native Communications Society.
“In 2009, I started taking insulin,” Tuesday said. “By 2008 and 2009, (my blood sugar levels were) consistently in the high 20s and even the low 30s. And I would still go to work.”
Tuesday has since developed retinopathy, due to persistent or acute damage to the retina.
“That’s where the capillaries in the back of your eye burst because the sugar molecules are larger and they can’t fit in there,” Tuesday said. “If your sugar level is constantly high, they burst. And that’s what happened to me.”
Tuesday has undergone laser treatment for the retinopathy in his left eye, but it only lasted one day before he lost vision again.
“It’s even worse now,” Tuesday said. “And in this one here, there is a bright dot in my right eye. Thankfully, it’s not right in the centre of my vision so I can still see you.”
Although Tuesday gave up running in 2001 after suffering two heart attacks, he is now considering moderate exercise to help control his blood sugar levels.
“It will stabilize my sugar levels,” Tuesday said.
Tuesday said diabetes was relatively unknown when he was growing up, but many of his
relatives and friends have since been diagnosed with diabetes.
“I remember my sister-in-law had diabetes, but she was the only one,” Tuesday said. “It was strange to us for her to have diabetes.”
Tuesday said his parents didn’t get diabetes until they were “very old.”
“It just showed up all of a sudden in our community,” Tuesday said.
According to the North West Local Health Integration Network, rates of diabetes in 2010 in northwestern Ontario were much higher than in Ontario as a whole.
Also the rates of people in northwestern Ontario being hospitalized due to complications from diabetes was significantly higher than the province as a whole.
The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) states that Aboriginal people are three to five times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to contract diabetes.
It also states that retinopathy affects 23 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes and 14 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes.
However, the CDA notes that by keeping blood glucose levels below 7.0 and maintaining optimal blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, people with diabetes can often catch retinopathy early and prevent its progress.
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