Newtownabbey grandmother warns diabetics not to take eyesight for granted
Newtownabbey woman Nan Murray, 82, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in her early 50s, and wants to help make others diagnosed with the condition more aware of the effect uncontrolled blood sugars could have on their sight.
There are now 100,000 people in Northern Ireland living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. This shocking number includes the estimated 12,000 who have not yet been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. All of whom are at increased risk of diabetic eye disease as well as glaucoma and cataracts.
Within 20 years of being diagnosed, nearly all people with type 1 diabetes and almost two thirds of people with type 2 diabetes will have developed some form of diabetic retinopathy, a condition which affects different parts of the eye and can result in vision loss.
Now registered severely sight impaired due to progressive Diabetic Retinopathy, sharing her story for Diabetes Week (June 14-20), Nan said: “If I knew what I now know, how the diabetes could affect my sight so much, I would’ve been much more careful.
“It didn’t affect my sight at first. I started off just watching what I was eating. Gradually though, I lost that fear and started eating more of what I shouldn’t. My blood sugars were high and erratic. The doctor put me on tablets for a while to help stabilise them, but my eyesight started deteriorating.
“I noticed it in my right eye first when I was in work in my last role in my mid 60s. My vision went blurry looking at the screen. It turned out my retina at the back of my eye has been damaged. I’ve experienced a lot of bleeds which have really blurred my vision and cause it to be patchy. Sometimes they’ve cleared on their own but I’ve had quite a few surgeries on my eyes now, including laser and a vitrectomy, which did help and delay any further sight loss, for a while.
“Thankfully I was able to work right up to, and a little beyond retirement but my sight has got a fair bit worse since those days.
“It’s now that I’m really starting to regret not taking better care of my diabetes to try to have avoided the difficulties that have come with the degradation of my sight. I was always an avid reader and knitter, with books constantly piled up ready to work my way through. It wasn’t often I didn’t come back from the shops without another one or two books.”
Nan added: “Thankfully with a little advice and training from RNIB’s Technology for Life team I use my Kindle and tablet now to keep reading. I would be lost without it, especially during the lockdowns! I still have one level of magnification left before I might have to start thinking about audio books, and I’m really just not there yet. “Just a few weeks ago I gave my daughter all my knitting supplies, including dozens of knitting needles with half knitted rows that I’d dropped stitches in and couldn’t see to pick back up. I would’ve knitted lots to send to Africa, and for friends’ children and family. I would love to still be able to.
“It is frustrating. Even trying to find things is so difficult now. Like the right bit of paperwork, what I want to wear, or the TV remote. I love my soaps!
“But I’m thankful for the sight I do still have. That I am still able to read with the Kindle, and use my magnifier for letters and the TV times. That I’m still able to see pictures and the faces of my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, though a bit blurry. It was so hard during lockdown when we had to rely on phone and videocalls or doorstep visits when it’s even harder to see people. I love my visits, they really make my day.”
Offering advice to people with diabetes, Nan stated: “To anyone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, or is at risk, I would say: ‘Be very careful with your eating’.
“Don’t do like me, I ate sweets the whole time but if I had to do it again I wouldn’t. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.
“If you have developed sight loss like me, maybe recently, I’d say: ‘You just have to keep trying.’ Keep trying different things to help. Get advice from RNIB and others. You don’t know what’s available in your own area or by just lifting the phone. And I’ll try to take my own advice too!”
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