As I write this, my beautiful, athletic young friend is having his big toe amputated. And he will find out in the next few weeks if his entire leg needs to be removed. How on earth did this happen? And is there a way to keep other people from going down this tragic path?
My friend is an avid cyclist, golfer and runner. He is slender, and has always seemed to be the epitome of good health. But several years ago, out of the blue, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Two of the issues arising from diabetes are poor circulation and nerve damage. The nerve damage means that people can experience greatly reduced feeling in their extremities, so wounds get overlooked. That, along with the poor circulation, is how disaster strikes. Once an infection or open wound takes hold, it can threaten the viability of a foot or limb.
For my friend, it started as a small blister on his foot that went unnoticed. By the time he discovered it and sought help, it had become badly infected. Despite aggressive attempts to treat the infection, including the use of a hyperbaric chamber, the infection had progressed too far. And now, we are all waiting to see how bad my friend’s outcome will be.
If you or someone you know has diabetes, you’re probably wondering how to avoid a similar fate. Experts see education as the first line of defense in saving limbs. Unlike heart disease and stroke, which have benefitted from awareness campaigns, loss of limbs from diabetes is, sadly, still poorly understood among the public.
To help prevent this tragic trajectory, people with diabetes need to carefully inspect their feet visually every time they take their shoes off, and to dutifully tend to wounds. Time is the crucial factor. And while there are a whole range of promising new technologies out there, from so-called smart socks that measure the temperature of people’s feet to molecular assessments of sores, the key is identifying wounds as quickly as possible, and treating them like the emergencies they in fact are.
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