Even With Diabetes, He Lives Life to the Fullest

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Jack Newmann of Cary, North Carolina was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was four years old. For the vast majority of his life, he has lived with the disease that has taken away his sight and threatens his foot, but it has not taken away his spirit.

Newmann is a former counselor of juvenile delinquents and a retired rehabilitation counselor for the blind. Legally blind himself since 1990, he broke his right foot in two places during a routine martial arts class in August of 2009. He is being treated using hyperbaric therapy at the Wound Healing and Podiatry Clinic at the UNC Center for Heart and Vascular for an ulcerated wound that will not heal.

Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic disease that is characterized by high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. There are three main types: type 1 (previously called juvenile diabetes), type 2 (or adult onset), and gestational or pregnancy diabetes.

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Type 1 occurs when the beta cells of the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin to control blood sugar levels. It can occur at any age, but is most often diagnosed in children. The exact cause is unknown, but researchers believe that it is likely caused by a viral or environmental trigger in genetically susceptible people which in turn causes an immune reaction. The body’s white blood cells mistakenly attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Diabetes is diagnosed when a fasting blood glucose level is higher than 126mg/dL on two separate occasions or if a random non-fasting glucose level is over 200 mg/dL and the patient has other typical symptoms such as increased thirst and urination and fatigue. Type 1 diabetics may also be tested for the presence of ketones in the urine. These are caused by the breakdown of fat and muscle when blood sugars are extraordinarily high – a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels over time can cause complications such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and amputation of limbs due to poor circulation, nerve damage, or non-healing wounds. Even with good diabetic care, complications can still occur, as in Mr. Newmann’s case. Although he was unable to live completely independently because of his loss of sight, he remained active, saying that, “Before I hurt my foot, I walked as much as 10 miles at a time and I lifted weights.”

After the injury, physicians found no pulse in the foot, indicating damage to blood vessels delivering blood and oxygen to his lower extremities. He had an arterial bypass surgery to increase blood flow and is now receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to speed healing. The treatment involves a 2-hour session where the patient lies inside a tubular chamber and pressure is adjusted until it mimics the atmosphere at 40 to 45 feet below sea level. At this level, the red blood cells become saturated with oxygen which helps promote healing.

Mr. Newmann, who must stay at the SECU Family House, a hospital hospitality house close to UNC Hospital campus, is working closely with his physicians to give himself every opportunity to heal and return to his normal life. He keeps a sign posted on his dresser that says, “Live every day as if it’s your last – some day it will be.” He says, “I want to just keep going, living each day to the fullest.

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