Woman's untreated diabetes leads to life-altering complications

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In her Carrollton, living room, Marie Akles is doing something she didn't do for years.

She's checking her blood sugar.

Willie Akles, her husband of 27 years, keeps a close eye on Marie because she is now legally blind.

Akles now understands the importance of checking her blood sugars – and giving herself insulin injections, if she needs them.

Yet, for the better part of 30 years, the 58-year old West Georgia mother and grandmother says she ignored the signs her diabetes was progressing after she was diagnosed at 25 years old. 

Back then, Akles says, a doctor prescribed insulin pills, encouraged her to start checking her blood sugar levels, and recommended getting in for regular checkups.

But, Akles admits, she didn't do that.

It's one of the biggest regrets of her life.

"Actually, I waited too late, avoided seeing the doctor and getting it really checked," she says.

By her mid-thirties, Akles was experiencing tingling and burning in her fingers and feet, a sign of nerve damage.

By 40, she had lost most of her vision.

"I woke up one morning, and it was excruciating pain in my left eye," Akles says.  "That's when I had to go to the emergency room.  That's when the doctor said I had the fastest-blinding glaucoma there was. I was hurt. I was really mad with myself because I didn't get it diagnosed in time."

She went on to have a heart attack at 46.

By the time Marie Akles started seeing Tanner Health System internist Dr. Amy Eubanks a decade ago, she had already developed some of the most devastating complications of diabetes.

"She had heart disease, she had heart attacks, she's blind," Eubanks explains. "She has had chronic kidney disease.

Eubanks says health care providers often talk aggressively about what smoking can do to the body. But, she believes physicians sometimes don't talk about how unmanaged diabetes can wreak its own havoc on the body.

"Don't stress the organ damage that can happen with diabetes, when we talk to the patients," Eubanks says. "It is our job to do that. If we don't make it a big point, they're not going to realize it's a big point."

Marie Akles is trying to turn things around.

She comes in to see Dr. Eubanks every three months and is trying to improve her diet.

"The problem is that now that she's blind, we have to make some adjustments for how she checks her sugars and how she does her insulin, " Eubanks says. "She needs a lot more help."

That is what her husband is trying to do, help.

They're working together to stay on top of her blood sugar checks and insulin injections.

"I know I have to manage my diabetes at a much better pace," Marie Akles says.

Tanner Health System is offering a free Diabetes Prevention class through the "Get Healthy, Life Well" program. The hour-long classes will run once a week for 16 weeks in Carrollton.  For more information, go to the program's website.