Insight E-Newsletter November 2013

Welcome to the November edition of "Insight". In recognition of National Diabetes Awareness Month, we're talking diabetic retinopathy (DR). Read on to learn how diabetes affects your eyes, check out some of our favourite accessible products and meet November Davies, an animal-lover who refused to let diabetes or DR take away her independence. ​​​

Getting back on your horse: November Davies talks life after vision loss

November Davies, 42, led a busy and full life; she was a mother, a pet owner, a hard worker, and an avid reader. When she started to lose her sight due to diabetic retinopathy, she felt like the walls were closing in around her.  But with confidence and determination she got her life back and excelled in every aspect, from making dinner for her family to gardening and playing with her pets and even horseback riding. 

Diagnosed with diabetes at age 9, Davies' disease was not as widely known or understood then as it is now. She was promised a cure by the time she was 15 and as a result was not disciplined in maintaining her health.  She wasn't strict with her diet and let other aspects of her health – such as maintaining good vision health through regular eye examinations – fall by the wayside. 

"When you're a teenager you're invincible," says Davies. "Since I was told a cure was coming, I didn't worry about the impending dangers associated with diabetes."

Her vision loss came on quite suddenly.  It started in her right eye and then progressed to her left. She underwent 9 surgeries and countless injections in an attempt to save her sight but, by age 37 Davies was completely blind.  Her vision loss was a direct result of her diabetes; she now had to learn how to live her life as a diabetic who was also living with diabetic retinopathy

"I went into survival mode. I knew about CNIB so I called them right away; they gave me my life back," says Davies. "CNIB taught me how to live my life the way I always had with helpful tips on things like how to cook safely and get around with a white cane. Their lessons gave me freedom and independence." 

In addition to her independence, Davies also gained the confidence to get back on her horse and dive into gardening – some of her favourite pastimes – only this time around she excelled far beyond her previous attempts. Davies took a bus, train, Go Bus and cab to get to her horses and it wasn't long before she was riding like a pro and placed second in a Standard Bred showcase.

"It definitely wasn't easy, but my horse made it a little easier by adapting to my vision loss," says Davies. "Before I lost my sight he was difficult and uncooperative but after I lost my sight, I couldn't ask for a better horse. He was sensitive and accommodating and it made such a difference in my goal to get back in the saddle."

Davies' love for animals extends beyond her horses as she's owned three Jack Russells in her lifetime. Her current dog, Fred, embraced the role of guide dog and has mastered the route to and from the local Tim Hortons so that both he and Davies can enjoy a coffee (Fred likes to lick the bottom of the cup). Though pets don't traditionally double as guide dogs, Fred acts as protector and puts himself between Davies and anybody who approaches them and even has different barks to alert her to visitors – those with or without coffee. 

 Davies' passion for animals led to her taking up public speaking and advocacy initiatives to help teach people the same understanding and accepting attitude she sees in animals. When CNIB asked her to take on the role of Ambassador, Davies saw it as a perfect opportunity to share her message. 

"Losing your sight changes things,  but there is life after blindness. We need to make an effort to take care of ourselves and each other," says Davies. "I've met some difficult people but I've also met some of the most amazing and kind people. I can't change the world, but if I can change one person then that's something."


Diabetes and the Eye 

By: Dr Keith Gordon
Vice President Research, CNIB

November is internationally recognized as Diabetes Awareness Month. To mark the occasion CNIB is asking all Canadians living with diabetes to do everything they can to regulate their illness, including getting regular and complete eye examinations.

One of the major complications of diabetes is a condition called diabetic retinopathy (DR) which can often lead to significant vision loss.

DR is the largest cause of vision loss in people under the age of 50 in Canada and occurs as a result of elevated glucose levels in the blood which causes blood vessels in the retina (back of the eye) to swell and leak. New blood vessels may also grow, thereby causing further damage and vision loss. In many cases of DR, the leaking fluid may build up in the area of the retina where light focuses, called the macula, causing swelling and the loss of clear vision. This condition is referred to as Diabetic Macular Edema (DME).

In the early stages of DR, there are often no symptoms and vision is not affected, nor is there any associated pain. However it's possible for an eye doctor to detect changes in the retina that may be caused by DR, even if there are no symptoms. Early detection and early treatment can help control the rate at which retinopathy progresses so that vision loss can be moderated or prevented. For this reason it is vitally important to get regular eye examinations from an eye doctor.

As DR progresses, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms: dark spots in your field of vision; blurred vision; large floaters (specks in the form of dots, circles, lines or cobwebs that move across your field of vision); poor night vision; or vision loss. You should see your eye doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms.

Everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing DR. In fact, nearly all patients with Type I diabetes and 60 per cent of those with Type II diabetes will develop some form of retinopathy during the first 20 years they have the disease.

Like other eye diseases, DR has some risk factors that are uncontrollable, such as ethnicity and family history. But other risk factors can be controlled, which will lower the likelihood of developing DR. The most important of these is to monitor and control your blood sugar. Quitting smoking, managing your weight, and lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels can also help reduce your risk.

If you are diagnosed with DR, there are now laser and drug treatments available that can greatly improve your outcomes. Your ophthalmologist will determine which treatment is appropriate for you.

For more information on DR and DME, visit


Shopping for independence

Whether you have some remaining vision or not, there are many vision aids that can help you navigate through life. Are you looking for something to help you read easier or an item that talks to you? Shop CNIB has a number of products that can help you have fun, stay healthy and live independently. Some of our favourite items include:

  1. Power-Mag Plus Stand Magnifier 3X – Having trouble reading the small print in your favourite book? This magnifier offers 3X magnification and uses LED technology that provides superior lighting and magnification. 
  2. Ameriphone Braille Voice Phone – This model features jumbo-sized buttons with braille characters that announce each number being dialed making it easier to call whoever you want, whenever you want.
  3. Key Chain Talking Clock – It's compact, it's cute and it displays and announces the time. Throw it in your pocket or purse, set the alarm and never be late again!
  4. Talking Watch (available in men's and women's) – If a keychain clock isn't your style, go for a classic look with a talking watch. With the push of a button you'll know what time it is – no alarm on this one though.
  5. Bicycle Large Print Playing Cards – Bridge, Poker or Go Fish, be a card pro with these large print playing cards available in red or blue.

Contact your local CNIB office for a low vision consultation and for more information on assistive devices or adaptive aids that can include both low- and high-tech tools.

For more information or to purchase any of our favourite products for yourself, or a family member visit



Start the New Year with CNIB's "Large Print 2014 Calendar" $6

This extra-clear calendar has black lettering approximately 1.5 cm high with extra space for writing notes. All Canadian public holidays and most days of religious observance are clearly shown. Calendar measures approximately 36.5 cm by 26 cm.

Order "CNIB's Large Print 2014 Calendar"

To browse hundreds of other Shop CNIB products for everyday living, visit one of our 20 stores across the country, visit our webstore or call the CNIB Helpline at 1-800-563-2642 to order a free catalogue.


Spread some holiday cheer!

As the crisp fall weather begins to move in, the CNIB team is eagerly looking forward to the holiday season ahead! This year, for the very first time, we're thrilled to be offering CNIB holiday cards for sale through Shop CNIB retail stores across the country and online at Available in packs of 10, these beautifully designed cards feature both braille and print, and all proceeds will support CNIB services in your community. Order yours today!


Thank you to our sponsor

This issue of "Insight" has been made possible with the support of an educational grant from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.



Note:The information provided in this article is for awareness purposes only, and should not replace the expertise of an eye doctor. CNIB recommends that you visit your doctor of optometry regularly for thorough eye exams, up-to-date medical information and advice tailored to your own unique vision health and family history. retin

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