‘I learned I had type 2 diabetes, then I lost a toe, finally it cost me a leg’

Donal O'Brien lost his lower leg due to diabetes
Donal O'Brien lost his lower leg due to diabetes
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AFTER his toe was run over by a woman on a mobility scooter while on holiday in Spain, Donal O’Brien waited patiently for the injury to heal.

What he didn’t know at the time was that he was a Type 2 diabetic – and that as a result the accident would cost him his lower leg.

When the 72-year-old collapsed while volunteering at the Strathspey Steam Railway in Aviemore after he returned from the holiday, he went to see his GP.

Donal was immediately sent to St John’s Hospital in Livingston, where a specialist said he suspected Donal had diabetes as soon as he looked at him, before tests confirmed the condition. However, that was not the first shock of his hospital stay.

“I was told it was gangrenous and I would lose the toe at least,” the Currie resident said. “They took it off and sent me home. Then a nurse came round and said she didn’t like the look of the two other toes.

“They had to take my leg off to just below the knee and I was given a prosthetic.” Donal is one of more than 1200 living in Scotland to have lost a lower limb due to diabetes, which can cause problems to arise from reduced circulation to the feet and damaged nerve endings.

Losing a leg is not the only way that the condition has affected his life.

“I’ve got neuropathy [nerve damage] in my other foot, so there’s no sensation,” he said. “If I damaged my foot I could bleed to death before I know there’s anything wrong, so I have to be very careful. I have to watch what I eat, and I barely drink alcohol now. I have to take insulin daily and check my blood sugar on a regular basis. I walk with a cane and always have to watch where I’m going.

“Diabetes can cause your eyesight to go and it can also affect your heart, kidneys and lungs.

“Before 2006 I couldn’t spell diabetes, now the only test I haven’t had at St John’s is a pregnancy test.”

Now treasurer of the Diabetes UK West Lothian Voluntary Group, he said more people should be tested and those with the condition should be better educated.

“Overall, I think the NHS has a good system, but it can be improved,” he said. “We meet people who think they’re diabetic but never get the test and more should be done to educate them about the real dangers that can arise.

“They also don’t give enough information to people with diabetes about what it is and why they need to do what they do. I think that’s important.”