The doctor’s words still haunt Paul Walker after nearly 30 years.
The diagnosis could not dissuade him when he was a young man and he continued to eat poorly and neglect his health.
“He told me I had type 2 diabetes and it was killing me from the inside out,” Mr Walker told 7.30.
More than 1 million Australians have diabetes. It is the country’s leading cause of preventable blindness and results in more than 4,400 amputations every year.
“I said, ‘I will be right’. I just ignored it — thought I was invincible,” Mr Walker said.
“I was young, a truck driver. Every service station you would get a burger, a pie, chocolate, Coke.”
‘Lucky I’m still here’
Mr Walker, now 52, avoided monitoring his blood sugar levels, did not take his medication, and ignored medical advice to lose weight and start exercising.
Last year, he was admitted to Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital suffering from a complication of type 2 diabetes, a foot ulcer, which in unusually severe cases requires amputation.
“He had developed a nasty heel ulcer which was threatening his leg,” said Dr Ramon Varcoe, Mr Walker’s vascular surgeon.
“In people with diabetes they have usually got obstructed blood vessels below the knee.”
Mr Walker has urged others to take diabetes more seriously.
“I’ve had toes amputated, a triple bypass, eye problems, kidney problems, blood pressure. Lucky I’m still here,” he said.
A ‘silent epidemic’
More people are being diagnosed with the condition, but it’s increasingly affecting younger Australians.
Greg Johnson, the CEO of Diabetes Australia, describes it as an epidemic.
“Twenty years ago it was unheard of to have a child or an adolescent with type 2 diabetes but we are seeing it more and more frequently,” Mr Johnson said.
“But the big numbers are in the 20s and 30s. Over the past five years, we’ve seen just under a 20 per cent increase in people in their 20s and 30s getting type 2 diabetes.”
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body loses its ability to produce enough of the hormone insulin, which regulates glucose in the blood. Over time high blood glucose levels can lead to blood vessel and nerve damage throughout the body.
“We see damage to organs like the kidney, the eyes, the feet, the heart the limbs and all of the complications happen because of the damage to our blood vessels,” Mr Johnson said.
“The silent nature of it is what makes it so difficult, because people can have type 2 diabetes for years without knowing they’ve got it and without symptoms.”
He’s calling for earlier identification through routine blood tests for adults and also checks in hospital emergency departments.
“Once you’ve got type 2 diabetes, it’s with you for life,” Mr Johnson said.
“This can be a killer condition.
“The sooner we identify it the sooner we can manage it. If people have pre-diabetes and act on it, we could prevent 60 per cent of type 2 diabetes cases from developing.”
Road to recovery
Nikki Hooppell has just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 19.
“I was shocked, I was bawling my eyes out,” she said.
“I knew I had been eating quite unhealthily. I was eating quite a bit of fast food. I also didn’t exercise.”
She has endeavoured to take up a healthier lifestyle to avoid the medical conditions her doctor has warned her about.
“I want to get back to the size I was when I first started getting bigger, so a size 12,” she said.
“I just want to lose weight and eat healthy.”
Meanwhile, after spending five months in hospital to save his right leg, Mr Walker has returned to hospital to treat an infection and had another toe amputated.
“I can’t walk without the aid of walking sticks at the moment [because] my balance is shocking,” he said.
“I am getting there slowly with rehab.”