Blind from diabetes: Auckland man saved with 24 hours to live

Warning: This story may be distressing for some readers.

An Auckland man is lucky to be alive afterhe went temporarily blind due to a diabetic complication he had no idea about.

Martin Taylor-Smith, 54, remembers sitting on the couch in his Mt Eden home when his television became a “complete blur”.

“I couldn’t even see the clock on the wall. Everything was fuzzy, like if you walked past me on the street I couldn’t tell if you were a man or a woman,” Taylor-Smith told the Herald on Sunday.

“It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced.”

Taylor-Smith hoped his story to help raise awareness about diabetes and the condition’s link to blindness. He also wanted to encourage others to get their eyes checked before it’s too late.

Early this year, Taylor-Smith became so severely depressed he tried to quit his job and thought about taking his life.

“A lot of the time I was just sleeping on the couch and it got worse and worse. Then, I was hardly showering and eating nothing at all and just drinking non-alcoholic drinks because I was so thirsty.

“I also started vomiting twice a day.”

He didn’t realise his symptoms were a result of type 2 diabetes – a condition he had no idea he had.

It took him going blind one afternoon in May to get treated.

“I mustered all the energy I could get, booked an Uber and somehow made it to St Lukes mall where I get my eyes checked every couple of years.”

There he was seen by Specsavers optometrist Karthi Param, whohe says saved his life.

“He’s a real hero and needs credit where it’s due,” Taylor-Smith said.

After examining Taylor-Smith, Param quickly contacted his GP asking for a full blood work up.

“I hadn’t seen a case as serious as Martin was … it wasn’t until the next day his doctor contacted me and told me just how bad it was. That was really scary,” Param said.

Taylor-Smith said his doctor pricked his finger to examine his blood sugar levels.

“Her meter couldn’t even read it, so she straight away rung the hospital.”

He doesn’t remember collapsing at Auckland City Hospital. He was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis – a serious complication where the body produces excess blood acids.

Without treatment, Taylor-Smith could have been dead within 24 hours.

“Doctors said the chances were I was heading towards a coma so I could have gone to sleep and never woken up.”

Aftera week in hospital, his vision came back, though doctors said it will never be what it was. But he said his mental health has improved dramatically.

Monitoring sugar levels, sticking to a healthy diet and lifestyle and being aware of other warning signs has now become a part of his daily routine.

“It’s now on me to survive because if I eat healthy, sleep, exercise, all the good things and stay away from all those sugary drinks, then I’ll be fine.”

His message to the community is: “Get checked, go see your GP because it’s a very quick prick of your finger and you could be saved.”

About diabetes

• Diabetes happens when the pancreas stops making enough insulin, or insulin can’t be properly used. Without it, glucose (sugar) from food cannot get from the bloodstream into cells.

• Controlling blood sugar levels is vital: over the long term, too much glucose in the blood can damage nerves, organs and tissue, risking heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness.

• Too much sugar in the blood can gradually damage blood vessels at the back of the eyes, a problem that’s well advanced by the time people have any inkling of vision problems.

• It’s crucial that the condition is picked up early, by regularly having a photo taken of the back of the eye (retina), to check for the beginnings of damage. Treatment including injections and laser surgery can often ensure it never reaches the point where sight is lost.

Where to get help:

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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