Many thanks for the Reading Post for using this story and for Jennifer for coming forward to warn people about their eyesight. Her story is a wake-up call about the prevalence of diabetes.
CHAIRWOMAN OF READING’S DIABETES UK SUPPORT GROUP URGES DIABETICS TO GET THEIR RETINAL SCANS
“Take 30 minutes every year to turn up for your annual retinal scan and it could save your sight” is the message from Reading’s Diabetes UK chairwoman to people with diabetes.
Jennifer Ackroyd, aged 68, from Woodley, is issuing the plea as she undergoes surgery to save the sight in her right eye. With dwindling sight in her left eye too, she is keen to ensure that people understand that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness.
She said: “If I can help save one person’s sight, it’s worth it.”
Diabetic retinopathy is a sight-threatening long-term complication of diabetes. Raised glucose levels can have an impact on the small blood vessels in the retina and this can threaten sight. If these are picked up early enough by the screening programme, then treatment can be effective, but diabetic retinopathy may not affect the sight until the changes are quite advanced.
Originally from Cheshire, the retired consumer development executive at Yell has had diabetes since she was 42. She has an unusual type of diabetes which was brought on owing to the shock of her father’s sudden death.
“At first, it was a total nightmare,” she said. “I remember that the first thing my mother brought me in hospital was a bag of sherbet lemons that the nurse said I wouldn’t be able to eat. I then had to have insulin at 7am and 7pm and then had to learn a kind of portion control.
“Then, a few days after my 50th birthday, I had a severe stroke which put me in hospital. However, during that time, I met a nurse called Jo Head who changed my life. She was the first specialist diabetic nurse I met, and she taught me how to control my diabetes, taught me how to use a glucometer [a machine that helps measure the correct dose of insulin] properly and put me in touch with a specialist diabetic doctor.”
However, Jennifer, who was widowed earlier this year, is still passionate about the work of Diabetes UK and regularly lobbies Westminster. The Reading group meets five times a year, supporting people who have recently been diagnosed, and people who have had the condition for years.
She added: “It’s the fastest-growing medical condition in the UK and something must be done about it. It’s the modern-day lifestyle that has led to the explosion in diabetes. Most people eat fast food and are feeding their children the same; pizzas, burgers, takeaways.
“When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, there’s a lot to take in so the message about taking care of your eyes and feet can get lost. It’s vitally important to have your retinal screening. I missed some appointments and had I kept earlier appointments, I might have saved my sight.
“There’s a mobile clinic that comes to your surgery and they put drops in your eyes. The specialist machine takes picture and notes the changes. It only takes about 30 minutes and it’s not uncomfortable. If it saves people’s sight, then we should do it.
“It’s heart-breaking for people who know me to watch me lose my sight and I know there are things I could have done to have prevented it. The recently-formed Diabetes Sans Frontières project definitely helped. Prior to that, I didn’t realise there was so much help available or that there were so many people are involved in my care.”
Stephanie Holland, Programme Manager for the Berkshire Diabetic Eye Screening Programme added: “Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication but if it’s diagnosed and treated early enough then severe loss of vision can be prevented in 90 per cent of cases. We run a screening programme and encourage everyone with diabetes over the age of 12 years to have a retinal examination using digital photography once a year. To book your appointment call 0118 936 8610.”