FOREST PARK — When Yucklin Crichlow was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes eight years ago, she was determined to do her best to control the disease.
Crichlow, 59, educated herself on treatment, diet and nutrition, and knew that diabetes could rob her of more than her beloved starchy foods.
“I’ve tried to take care of myself,” she said. “I knew diabetes could affect my vision but I tried hard to take care of myself. I stay away or limit my intake of potatoes, rice and breads. I keep my blood sugar under 300.”
Diabetes can affect a patient’s kidneys, circulation, nerves, digestion, heart, skin and vision, so Crichlow got regular physicals and vision screenings.
Until last year, Crichlow considered herself lucky to have avoided complications.
Then her life started to get dark.
“During my regular eye exam, I noticed things were blurry,” she said. “The doctor told me to return and get them rechecked. My vision was even more blurry and distorted. He referred me to a specialist.”
According to some research, more Americans fear blindness than heart disease and Crichlow was no different.
“My vision was going dark and I was really scared,” she said. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was forcing my vision to push through the darkness to make myself see. I couldn’t accept that I might be going blind.”
During her visit to Dr. John Miller of Georgia Retina, Crichlow got her
diagnosis — diabetic macular edema, a leading cause of blindness among patients with types 1 and 2 diabetes.
In laymen’s terms, Crichlow had leakage and swelling in the back of her eye. She was legally blind in her left eye.
“I had a serious case of ‘Ohmygoodness,’ said Crichlow. “I wondered what was going to happen to me. It was stomach-turning.”
After the initial shock wore off, Crichlow went into action.
“I wanted to know what to do to get my vision back,” she said.
Miller used a laser to stop the leakage and injected lucentis to reduce swelling. Once the swelling went down, Crichlow’s vision began to return.
“I could see out of my eye, the darkness was gone,” she said. “The key is keeping the swelling down. When it goes up, the vision is blurry.”
Miller said Crichlow will likely need regular injections to keep the swelling down.
“She will probably need the shots indefinitely,” he said. “Those shots and good sugar control will help keep her vision clear.”
Crichlow is a cosmetologist who also enjoys video games and surfing the Internet, so the thought of losing her sight was maddening. Her independence is also important to Crichlow.
“The doctor told me I couldn’t drive for seven months,” she said. “It was very frustrating for me. I refused to ask anyone for a ride anywhere. If my daughter called to ask if I wanted to go with her, I would but I wouldn’t just ask.”
The injections saved her vision and restored her independence, she said.
“I can drive, I can see and when I look at things now, they’re distorted slightly but from where I came from, I call it a blessing,” said Crichlow.
Diabetic patients have to be diligent to protect their health and no one appreciates that more than Crichlow. She stresses the same pro-action for all diabetics.
“If you see something, anything slightly off, anything you aren’t sure about, go straight to the doctor,” said Crichlow. “If I hadn’t gone, I’d have missed it. Don’t diagnose yourself.”
“Patients can perceive this as coming on quickly, swelling of the retina, but the blurred vision can be off to one side,” he said. “Then, it hits the center. The disease can be present for a while and the symptoms come up quickly.”
Miller recommends diabetics get regular eye exams, including dilating the retina, to detect the presence of diabetic macular edema. He said half of people with DME don’t realize they have it.
“Anyone with diabetes, no matter how long they’ve had it, should get yearly dilated retina exams,” he said. “There are treatments available if there is a problem and the loss of vision can be prevented.”
Experts at DiabeticConnect.com, a website that provides educational, health, diet and nutrition information for diabetics, state that 22 percent of diabetics have never had a conversation with their doctors about vision loss from diabetes, 13 percent don’t think they’ve had the disease long enough for their eyes to be affected and 32 percent don’t know they need a retina exam.
Crichlow is thankful she made the right decision that saved her vision.
“I’m going to try yoga next,” she said.