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Chris Opens up About his Complicated Relationship with Diabetes

As we know only too well, diabetes is a lifelong commitment, but when managed correctly it is possible to live well with the condition.

However, if you have diabetes, failing to look after yourself properly can put you at risk of some very serious complications that can be life-changing.

We caught up with Chris McDonnell, who over the years has suffered various complications due to mismanagement of his diabetes. Thankfully, Chris is back on track and wants to use his story as a cautionary tale to help others understand the importance of taking care of yourself and your diabetes.

  • Could you please give us a little background to your diabetes (Type, when and how you were diagnosed and age)?  

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 9. I was always a sickly child, having virus after virus quite regularly. The day I was diagnosed the specialist advised my parents that had it not been caught I would have only had 48 hours to live, so I was lucky.   

I’ll always remember my day of diagnosis as it was the same day that I was due to play sports at school, sadly I couldn’t participate and had to spend the following week in the hospital. 

In 1989, the year I was diagnosed there was not much awareness of diabetes. In fact, I was the first person in my school to be diagnosed.  

I was diagnosed at the start of November but my school would not let me go back until after the Christmas holidays. They wanted to learn more about how to control/manage the condition in case I went into a hypo, which obviously happened on a few occasions.  

I remember, once I’d returned to school and suffered a hypo, one of the teachers would always drive me home once I’d recovered, even if there was nobody at home. Unfortunately, back then they did not understand the condition.  

  • What kind of complications has your diabetes caused for you?  

My complications are quite severe due to poor control over the years.  

Amputations 

I had my first toe amputated in 2009, due to a cut I got on the bottom of my toe while I was on holiday in the Dominican Republic. Although I treated the wound, I did continue to go in the pool and on the beach, so wasn’t protecting it properly.

By the time I arrived home, I became ill and my toe had turned black. I went to the hospital and they told me I had to have the toe amputated the next day. After the surgery, there was a complication, which ended in me having to endure further surgery. During this time, I was told that there was a possibility that I could lose my whole leg. As you can imagine this was very traumatic and frightening.

My second toe amputation came around five years later. As a result of me losing the one toe, my other toe naturally bent and moved under another toe, and therefore started rubbing away. I was in Australia to attend a friends wedding in 2015, and whilst there I noticed that it had rubbed to the bare bone. I then ended up in a hospital in Perth where I had the toe removed.

Partially Sighted 

Back when I was in the hospital for my first toe, I noticed a problem with my sight. I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and both my retinas became detached.  

I attended Southampton General Hospital where I underwent around 15 operations.  

The first set of surgeries were to place silicon oil in my eye which pushed the retina back in place. The first surgery was on my right eye, during which they scarred the centre of my vision which is a complication of the surgery. This has now left me partially sighted in my right eye.  

The next round of surgeries was on my left eye, unfortunately, this did not go so well and during the surgery, I had a haemorrhage which caused severe pain and ultimately I lost the sight in the left eye.  

I am now registered as partially sighted. However, I am managing the condition quite well.  

My other complications include kidney damage, high blood pressure. At some point, it is most likely that I will require a kidney transplant.  

  • How do you manage these (do you need regular eye check-ups, medication etc?)  

My control of the condition has drastically improved since 2009. Prior to this time, I did not treat the condition with any respect at all and avoided most of my medical appointments and the warnings I was given. I only ever injected twice a day, but I was supposed to take four injections per day and carb count.  

This has changed, I now attend all of my appointments and take my insulin regularly, I am on a number of other treatments including eye drops and tablets for my blood pressure and cholesterol.  

I now use the Libre device which has helped reduce my blood sugars. I am not perfect but I do try a lot harder.   

  • How does your diabetes affect your daily life/lifestyle?  

Fortunately, the impact on my daily life/lifestyle is minimal. I carry my insulin around with me at all times, my Libre is connected to my phone so I can check my blood sugar at any time.  

However, the biggest main downside is that I’m no longer able to drive, due to being partially sighted, so my freedom has been somewhat taken away.   

  • What about your mental wellbeing?    

I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past. Mainly when I was going through all my issues with my toes and eyes.  

I lashed out at the people close to me, and was very angry and annoyed with myself for causing the problems. After all, they could have been prevented.  

However, I have come to terms with my condition and it’s important to get on with life.  

The only other times I let my diabetes get me down is when my blood sugars aren’t at the correct level. I take large sums of insulin, especially in the mornings and don’t eat breakfast but still, I don’t seem to be able to get my blood down as quick as I want to. This can get me down.  

  • Is there anything you need to be particularly careful about/any specific challenges that you face?  

I need to be particularly careful at night time, as I struggle in the dark due to being partially sighted.  

I also have to ensure that my kidneys maintain their current levels, and check my feet for cuts as I’ve lost some feeling. 

The most important thing is to have good control of my diabetes, something that I’m committed to.  

  • What advice would you give to someone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes?  

Listen to the diabetes team and take the condition seriously, but don’t let it affect your life. 

As long as you manage your diabetes well and give it respect, you can do anything that anyone without diabetes can do.  

Reach out to Diabetes Guernsey and get involved. It’s great to speak to people with the same condition as you realise that everyone is going through the same issues and nobody is perfect. We all like our treats!! 

  • Are there any misconceptions about diabetes that you would like to dispel? 

 Yes, lots but the main two are: 

1) That you can’t eat or drink what you want. We often hear the phrase, ‘you can’t eat/drink that, you’re a diabetic.’ 

2) Many people believe they know more about diabetes and how to manage it than you. 

If you need support with your diabetes or would like to connect with others that know what you’re going through we’re here to help. Keep an eye on our social media channels and our website for information about coffee mornings, help and advice.