Red Deer volunteer urges others with diabetes to get their eyes checked

11/9/2012

Kim Skibsted is the first speech language pathologist in Canada who is blind, but if you think that that is the extent of her accomplishments, think again. Despite losing her vision to diabetic retinopathy at a young age, Ms. Skibsted is a proud university graduate, home owner, and active volunteer in her community.

Skibsted, who has lived with diabetes for most of her life, became blind from diabetic retinopathy when she was just 25. The condition is the leading cause of vision loss in Canadians under the age of 50 with about half a million Canadians having some form of the condition. Diabetic retinopathy is caused when elevated blood glucose levels cause vessels in the retina to swell and leak. 

For Skibsted, it meant seven surgeries over the course of six months and a year of sick leave taken from her work at the Edmonton General Hospital. In the end, she was left totally blind. While she was still in hospital, Skibsted’s parents contacted CNIB. Along with gathering information and tips on how to accomplish simple tasks with no vision, a CNIB specialist, who was also blind, visited Skibsted in hospital. She says the visit really had an impact on her.

“To see this lady who was blind and who could still function normally- it inspired me,” said Skibsted.

After being released from hospital, Skibsted attended a 10-week adjustment to vision loss program at CNIB in Calgary, where she was taught skills that would aid her at work and at home. She learned how to read and write braille, type on a typewriter, and travel alone. With a CNIB guide she was even able to ski, skate and dance again.

“When I was in the program, my whole life turned around,” said Skibsted. “I realized that when you lose your vision, what you do doesn’t change – only how you do it.”

It is these skills that also allowed Skibsted to go back to work and, four years later, to enroll full-time at the University of Alberta. That is not to say it was an easy time for her. An intense amount of planning was required to get from place to place and each class required months of prep time beforehand. Without the conveniences of modern technology to aid her, she relied on CNIB volunteers to read her textbooks and university volunteers to help her complete tests.

“If you knew the number of volunteers who helped,” said Skibsted. “It was amazing”

These days, along with her job as a speech language pathologist, Skibsted helps others understand and handle the challenges of vision loss. She often speaks to families and at local schools, and is the facilitator for Visionaries, a support group for working-age people who are blind or partially sighted. That role has now extended to raising awareness about the risk factors and prevention methods of diabetic retinopathy.

The message has never been more important, as 43,000 people are living with some form of diabetic retinopathy in Alberta; this figure is expected to increase by 61 per cent in the next 20 years.

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at high risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. However, most vision loss from the condition can be avoided by managing glucose levels, exercise, early detection and treatment. That’s why Skibsted stresses the importance of getting your eyes checked. 

“My advice is that people with diabetes should see an ophthalmologist every year – and if there is any sign of retinopathy, every six months. It comes on quickly and you don’t really notice it as it’s occurring until it’s almost too late.”

CNIB has a range of resources for Canadians with diabetes and their families including Eye Connect: Diabetic Retinopathy. This one-stop source for information provides a comprehensive overview of risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy, prevention tips, treatments, tools available to you for adapting to vision loss and resources for emotional support. For more information, visit cnib.ca/dr. This website has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

About CNIB

CNIB is a registered charity, passionately providing community-based support, knowledge and a national voice to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. To learn more, visit cnib.ca or call the toll-free CNIB Helpline at 1-800-563-2642. 

Media contacts:

Robin Young
CNIB Communications 
(902) 453-1480 ext. 5725
robin.young@cnib.ca

Janet Batty
CNIB Communications 
(604) 431-2162 ext. 6029
janet.batty@cnib.ca

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