Grande Prairie resident urges others with diabetes to get their eyes checked

10/1/2013

​Sharon Lepp has had to overcome an incredible number of obstacles related to her health over the course her life. A long list of complications as a result of her diabetes has made each day more difficult than the last – but no challenge has been greater than when she began to lose her vision in 2008. Despite it all, she still retains a sunny personality and contagious positive outlook, two qualities that have allowed her to help others overcome difficulties in their own lives.

Since being diagnosed in 1990, Lepp has gone through a lot as a result of her diabetes, including being subject to recurring infections, breathing problems, constant bouts of sickness and chronic blackouts. In 2008, Lepp began experiencing problems with her vision due to the disease. In the five years that followed, she was diagnosed with an incredible four different conditions related to vision loss, including diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME).

With the deterioration of her vision, every aspect of Lepp’s life was affected. Daily activities such as writing letters to her friends, scrap booking, reading and cooking were made much more difficult. Losing the ability to drive was especially hard on her because she suddenly had to rely on others to get to and from the hospital, where she had regular check-ups, appointments and surgeries. She says that it reaffirmed for her how debilitating losing your vision can be.

“At first, when you lose your vision you don’t really realize how hard it’s going to get,” says Lepp. “As your vision gets worse and worse, you can really start to get depressed.”

Despite these problems, however, Lepp’s positive outlook shone through and she was quickly looking for ways to overcome her vision loss. That’s when she turned to CNIB.

“I had lived down the street from the CNIB office in Edmonton, and when I began to lose my vision I thought ‘I should see what they’ve got’,” says Lepp.

The organization showed her how to use a white cane to get around town safely and gave her access to a DAISY reader, a device that plays audio books, enabling her to read her favorite novels again. However, the most useful device that she acquired through CNIB is a simple magnifier that she uses for everything, from reading the label on a can of soup to reading the bible in church. Lepp says that that it was the positive attitude of the CNIB specialists that truly made the difference, though.

“When I went to CNIB it was so easy, they were so supportive,” says Lepp. “Now I always say to people who are having problems with their vision, ‘Just go to CNIB, they will take care of you, they will help you’.”

Lepp wasn’t done there, though. Once again using her initiative, she found ways to help others overcome their own challenges. Lepp often sits next to members of her church who are struggling in their lives and talking with them about their own difficulties. She has begun to open her house up by hosting church peer support groups and bible studies. At every event or meeting her positive outlook had an impact on those around her, helping them to see the silver lining in their own difficult situations. 

“I have learned so much, and have been so encouraged by getting together with other people with vision loss,” says Lepp. “I think it’s so important that, if you are struggling with something, you find someone else with similar problems and hear about how they got through it.”

On October 5, Lepp will go even further to help others when she speaks at CNIB’s symposium on diabetes-related vision loss in Grande Prairie to tell her 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.

During her talk, Lepp will encourage others with diabetes to get their eyes checked regularly.

“It completely puzzles me why people wouldn’t just go to their optometrist to get their eyes checked,” says Lepp. “Even when they’re not having any problems with their diabetes, get checked anyways, it could mean a world of difference to your eyes.”

For more information on CNIB’s free symposium on diabetes-related vision loss in Grande Prairie, call 539-4719. 

Media Contact:

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

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