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Australia's Leading Ophthalmic Magazine Since 1975

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One person at a time

Losing vision to diabetes is my ultimate fear. Out of all the senses, vision plays the biggest role in my life.

I can’t fathom what it would be like if I couldn’t see my two beautiful boys growing up before me. Not witnessing them pave their own futures and build their own dreams would be devastating.

As a clinical optometrist with diabetes and a special interest in diabetes eye-related disease, I can tell you it does not discriminate. It’s a life-long challenge, with no ‘off’ switch, because there are no off days. Steer away for 24 hours and you find yourself in hospital.

I have seen firsthand how diabetes eye-related disease can significantly affect people’s lives.

It was only a few weeks ago that I witnessed the heartbreak as my patient was forced to cut up his own driver’s licence due to advanced diabetes eye-related disease. He was a traveller, always on the road and ready for the next adventure – sightseeing was ‘his thing’.

Diabetes and diabetes eye-related diseases affects people in so many more ways than I could have ever imagined. Some have to leave their jobs, others need full-time carers and some desperately cling onto memories as they can no longer visually see their loved ones.

"Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person"

‘If I knew then what I knew now’ is unfortunately a phrase I hear all to often. The voice of deep regret, hurt and disappointment that if only something had been done differently, if only someone had taken the extra step to remind them, then maybe things would have turned out differently.

For some people delaying or even skipping regular eye checks may seem insignificant, but as eyecare professionals we know better and should be doing all we can to convince our patients otherwise. If not, months can turn into years, and unfortunately by the time they come in it’s already too late.

We need to remember that diabetes is complex and impacts on every aspect of people’s lives, making it at times overwhelming to manage all their appointments. As both a health professional and patient I can say this is often why many of us fall through the cracks of the health system.

Life just happens. In some cases, people don’t understand the link between diabetes and eye disease, or that vision and eye health are often two separate entities.

The fact is diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of preventable blindness among working adults in the world. The word we as eyecare professionals need to focus on is preventable – we can do something about it.

Carl Zeiss

By 2030, 552 million people will be living with diabetes. In Australia, there are already 1.7 million people with diabetes and of those, one in three will develop diabetes eye-related disease. When combined with the reality that almost everyone with type 1 diabetes and more than 60% with type 2 diabetes will develop some form of diabetic retinopathy within 20 years of diagnosis, the problem can seem insurmountable.

However, if I’m ever feeling discouraged, I remember: ‘Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person.’ These words have shifted and redefined my purpose.

Just one example of the progress we can make is the recently announced, and long awaited, KeepSight program.

KeepSight is all about making it easier for people to remember to get their eyes checked within recommended time frames by building a structure for systematic eye examinations. Not only will the person with diabetes see their optometrist or ophthalmologist, but once they are registered with KeepSight they will be given a reminder, either by letter, SMS or social media, to book in their next appointment.

It’s not just about getting people with diabetes to get their eyes checked once, it’s about making this a part of their lives and taking one more load off their already hectic schedule. It may seem like a simple thing, but making diabetes management easier is something we have needed for a long time.

If we all band together and play our role, we can end diabetes-related blindness within a generation – because if we can change the world for one person at a time, then we will make a difference.

Name: Amira Howari
Qualifications: B.Optom(Hons), M.Optom(UNSW) GradCertOcTher
Position: Clinical optometrist, Diabetes Australia Ambassador
Location: Sydney
Years in the profession: 13


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