By Charlie Fidelman, Postmedia News November 21, 2013

Diabetic amputee John Burchell, 77, lost his right leg below the knee a year ago because of a diabetes-related infection and had two toes on his left foot amputated in 2010, also after a diabetes-related infection. A non-smoker and physically fit his whole life, Burchell only found out that he was diabetic after the first infection set in.

Photograph by: Phil Carpenter , The Gazette

John Burchell used to love skating. Every Friday, he went with his wife to the arena near their house in Laval and they’d skate together holding hands.

But those days are over for Burchell, 77, whose right leg was amputated last year.

When a black spot appeared on one of his toes two years ago, he thought his skates were laced too tightly. Two podiatrists missed the obvious — circulation problems that signalled something much graver.

Finally, one podiatrist recommended Burchell see a medical specialist trained to treat disorders of the veins and arteries. When he was hospitalized in 2011, Burchell discovered he was borderline diabetic, a condition often described as the “grey area” between normal blood-sugar and diabetic levels.

Five million Canadians are living with borderline diabetes, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. That’s on top of the 3.1 million Canadians (up from 2.4 million in 2008-09) who have a diagnosis of diabetes — and roughly another million who don’t know they have the disease, said Dr. Jan Hux, chief scientific adviser for the association.

“That gives you a picture of how quickly this epidemic is evolving — we go from 2.4 (million) to 3.1 million in a five-year period,” said Hux, who is also a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto.

A study Hux co-authored in 2007, which looked at changes in the rates of diabetes in Ontario between 1995 and 2005, found a 69-per-cent increase. The spike in rates is due to an aging population — the sharpest increase occurred after age 40.

However, Hux said, when properly managed, diabetes complications can be prevented or delayed. That’s why the association is so concerned about pre-diabetes as an early warning sign, Hux said. “We know that they have a 50-per-cent chance of going on to develop diabetes, and this is a fabulous opportunity to make intervention in lifestyle to greatly reduce their risks. It allows us to identify people who could benefit from prevention. Let’s deal with it before it becomes a problem.”

This year, diabetes will cost Canada $13.1 billion, up from $11.7 billion in 2010, Hux said. The association projects costs will rise to $16 billion by 2020.


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