January 14, 2019 By Dustin Thorsten
Supporting a strategy to end an epidemic

Diabetes is a complex and challenging disease. Today, 11 million Canadians live with diabetes or prediabetes. Since 2000, the number of people with diabetes has doubled. In Manitoba, where I live, 377,000 of us are affected by this disease—that’s 27 per cent of the population. The number of people with diabetes is predicted to rise to 30 per cent in this province alone in the next 10 years. Along with these sobering statistics, diabetes accounts for 30 per cent of strokes, 40 per cent of heart attacks, 50 per cent of kidney failure requiring dialysis, and 70 per cent of amputations in Canada each year. The life expectancy of a person with diabetes is shortened by an average of 13 years.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. More than 100 groups and individuals from across Canada are adding their voices and expertise to the development of an innovative and evidence-informed plan to tackle the diabetes epidemic. Upon learning about this plan known as Diabetes 360°, I became excited about changing the path of this disease and I wanted in.

I’m one of the millions of Canadians living with diabetes. My time with type 1 diabetes has been two things: short and difficult. The difficulty is partially because of how hard of a time I had getting my initial diagnosis, all the way to my present reality of poking myself with needles eight or more times a day.

I'm in my late 30s, and was diagnosed six years ago. The path to my diagnosis wasn’t a seamless one. I started going to walk-in clinics because both my legs hurt, from behind my knees to my toes. Sometimes one hurt more than the other, but a pain was always there. It hurt most when I was resting or sleeping. Doctor visit after doctor visit, I was prescribed drugs for restless leg syndrome or other types of medications, but never properly diagnosed.

I had started to accept that how I was feeling was part of aging. Once my wife and I had children, we decided to seek a family doctor for all of us. As luck would have it, a new clinic opening close to our house led me to our new family doctor. I explained what I had been feeling, and she ordered some blood work. The following day I was called in, and our doctor explained that my blood sugar was extremely high and concerning. My blood sugar was 34 mmol/L—to put it in perspective, the target range for people living with diabetes is between four to seven mmol/L.

Later, I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up other medication and a blood glucose meter. The pharmacist showed me how to use the meter. When the high number came up again, she actually tried a second time to be sure the number was right. The look on her face is one I won't forget.

The next day, I received a call from an endocrinologist who insisted I come in as soon as I could, or they would send an ambulance for me. At this point, I was terrified. I hadn't ever had so much as broken a bone in my life, and now everything in my world was turned upside down. After my appointment, I felt lost, as if this was a misdiagnosis, except I knew it couldn't be based on other physical signs, such as weight loss and the large amounts of water I’d been drinking.

The good news is that I finally had the answer to why my legs were hurting (and it wasn’t because I was getting older)—neuropathy is another serious and unfortunate consequence of this disease. I wonder now, had I had proper screening tests, would I have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes much sooner? Would proper treatment have led to less or possibly no nerve damage and being able to sleep like a regular person instead of waking up every night because my legs hurt?

There is a solution and strategy that our federal government can support that will work to improve screening and earlier diagnosis that will lead to faster and appropriate treatments, and prevent situations such as mine. Diabetes 360° is the strategy that can do just that, and it is why I sent my member of parliament (MP) a letter to encourage support for a renewed diabetes strategy in the next federal budget. It’s an easy action to take with the potential of helping prevent thousands of new diagnoses, as well as improving the care of those living with the disease.

Diabetes takes up many resources in our health-care system. My hope is that our government will listen to the voices of Canadians like me and take the action needed to end this epidemic.

Dustin Thorsten (pictured above) is a diabetes advocate who lives in Winnipeg. He participated in the Diabetes 360° advisory panel.

You can take action against the diabetes epidemic in Canada by contacting your MP with this easy-to complete e-form to pledge support for the Diabetes 360˚ strategy. Urge the federal government to fund this strategy in its 2019 budget, before the burden of diabetes gets worse—for Canadians, the healthcare system, and the economy.

Do you have a personal story of how diabetes has affected you or someone you know? Fill in our easy personal story submission form, and you and your story could appear in myDC community content.

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