One of the things we don’t talk about enough is diabetes and male complications. We want to be telling all the diabetes stories in South Africa – representing all the various lived experiences of people with diabetes. Gavin van Wyk shares his, below….
Can you tell us your diagnosis story?
I was diagnosed in 1988 at the age of 3 years. I collapsed and my parents took me to the hospital. The doctors thought it was due to dehydration and put me on a glucose drip. That sent me into a coma. None of the doctors could figure out what was going on until a paediatric specialist tested my blood glucose and pancreas function. They found that I had a virus that was attacking my organs and the glucose drip was too much for my pancreas to handle and it basically ceased.
What do you wish you’d known when you were diagnosed?
I was so young when I was diagnosed, life with diabetes is all I can remember and have always known. My parents, especially my mom, was very involved in my diabetes management. She taught and instilled a sense of responsibility in me. When visiting the professor in Bloemfontein and our GP, she told me to tell them how I was feeling and to ask questions.
I wish I knew the affects of my behaviour on my health when I was in high school. I went through a rebellious stage after my mom passed away in Standard 7 and I just gave up. I went into full blown diabetes burnout. Luckily my dad and grandparents were always there to guide me back and take care of me.
What’s the most challenging part of living with diabetes, for you?
Definitely the mental aspect. I get tired and fed up a lot. It’s not just the constant work, but also living with multiple complications that gets so tiring.
I have a lower limb amputation of my right foot, low vision due to diabetic retinopathy, a neurogenic bladder due to neuropathy, and the sexual implications of neuropathy. I have retrograde ejaculation and as a married man, that impacts so much. My wife and I are still trying to fall pregnant and it affects a person’s self image and confidence.
Accompanying the neuropathy and neurogenic bladder, I’ve got myopathy of my bladder and my wife has to catheter me every day as my bladder doesn’t empty all the way and that can have so many complications and infections affecting my kidneys, testicular and prostrate.
In a nutshell, the most challenging part of living with diabetes is all the complications and the lack of awareness I had until it hit me.
What would you say to someone who is struggling?
I am blessed with my wife, family, key friends and healthcare team that help me. If your support people aren’t working for you and your personalities don’t get along, change to people who will. There are so many wonderful people and organisations out there whose passion is helping. Tap into that resource.
What has diabetes taught you?
It has taught me responsibility, gratefulness, grace, patience and speaking up.
What makes your life sweet?
Definitely my wife, my pets and being able to get up and help others living with diabetes. I am volunteering with RetinaSA and I completed the SA Diabetes Advocacy course. So, even though I am sitting at home due to disability, I am still helping like I did as a pharmacist assistant.
Follow Gavin on Instagram @gavvw22
What to read next?
What are diabetes complications? A helpful list of symptoms: Diabetes complications are one of those things none of us wants to think about. The good news is that with careful diabetes management, regular doctor’s visits and knowing what to look out for, you’re able to slow down – and even sometimes reverse – diabetes-related complications. Shannon Innell gives us all the info.
Do people with diabetes need to worry about heart health?: We all know that diabetes and heart health go together – heart disease is one of the most common diabetes complications. But does that mean all people with diabetes need to worry about heart health?
The diabetes situation in South Africa- all the basics you need to know: “Could you explain the diabetes situation in South Africa?” is a question we get asked all the time. Let’s start with the stats.