Medicine Hat Speaker Urges Others with Diabetes to Learn About the Risks of Vision Loss

9/11/2013

To Murray Helem, attitude is everything when it comes to overcoming obstacles – and if anyone should know, it’s him. Since 2000, Helem has lost the majority of his vision from diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME), forcing drastic changes in his life. He has refused to let these hurdles slow him down, though, choosing instead to find ways to overcome his challenges and contribute to his community in the process.

Helem was diagnosed with diabetes when he was just 24 years old, but it wasn’t until 25 years later, in 2004, that he began to experience vision loss due to the disease. He developed DR first, but within a few years it had progressed and resulted in the development of DME. Both diseases are caused when elevated blood glucose levels cause vessels in the back of the eye to swell and leak.

Helem sought out help from his doctor and CNIB, who provided advice and support during a difficult time. After many visits to his ophthalmologist and countless surgeries, Helem was left with minor vision in his right eye.

“I have severe tunnel vision - imagine being able to see about four feet in front of you, but only about the width of a pencil lead,” says Helem.

Helem says that, as a young man, he seldom ever listened to any of his doctors’ advice about managing his diabetes or the potential consequences of not doing so. It is this stubbornness, along with his alcohol consumption and poor diet, that he blames for the progression of his diabetes and the eventual loss of his sight.

“I was always told I could have problems with my vision,” Helem says. “I always said I would deal with it then.”

Helem is now 10 years sober and, with help from CNIB, has been able to tackle the challenges of vision loss head on. A CNIB specialist showed him how to use a white cane to get around safely and introduced him to devices such as the talking clock and liquid level indicator - a device that beeps to notify you when the container you’re pouring into is full.

Helem was even able to begin reading again after acquiring a CCTV, a large monitor-like device that magnifies and changes the contrast and brightness of print materials.

"When I received my CCTV machine, I was able to read my bible again after two and a half years – it was amazing."

That’s not to say that Helem didn’t continue to face many difficulties in his everyday life. Daily chores would often take a very long time to complete and navigating Medicine Hat’s downtown intersections was a frightening proposition. In 2011, he decided he’d had enough. Helem successfully pressured the Town of Medicine Hat into adding accessible pedestrian signals to some of the town’s main traffic lights, making them much safer for those with vision loss. The accomplishment is a testament to his determination and willingness to step up.

“I don’t quit. I refuse to quit. I refuse to sit in a rocking chair in front of a window for anybody,” he says.

On September 14, the Helem will go even further for the cause, when he speaks at CNIB’s DME symposium in Medicine Hat to tell his story and raise awareness of the connection between diabetes and vision loss. The event will also allow guests to ask questions of an ophthalmologist, and discover helpful tips, technologies and supports at informational booths.

“I want people at the event to know that you can really reduce your risk of developing vision loss if you manage your diabetes properly.” Helem says, “Control your blood sugar levels, get your eyes checked regularly and listen to your doctor, they know what they’re talking about.”

For more information on CNIB’s DME symposium in Medicine Hat, call 527-2211.

Media Contact:

Robin Young
(902) 495-6197
joshua.robin.young@gmail.com

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