What do you feel when you look at this image? Shock, revulsion, fear?

What about if the image was different – a mastectomy scar or a stoma site, would these images instead provoke responses of sympathy, compassion and sensitivity perhaps?

These feet belong to someone I haven’t met in person, only online but he is someone I feel a real connection with because he represents everything I want to change about people’s experiences of foot health.

His story began 9 years ago when he was still only in his twenties and when his life as he knew it was forever changed, due to complications of diabetes. As a dancer the impact was completely devastating.

“Losing my toes, meant losing the grounding and balance I needed to dance. Being a professional dancer, this was heartbreaking. Now, after a long battle and a huge GoFundMe and local media campaign, I have prosthetics. They haven’t let me dance again, but they’ve given me my confidence back, and hide the scars when I’m feeling bad about them.”

If the cause of the amputation had been different – for example cancer, a war wound or an accident, do you think we would have a different response? Diabetes is an illness shrouded in misconception, blame and stigma. Diabetes can happen to anyone and has a profound, relentless impact on their life. It’s a complex group of illnesses with a variety of causes that can lead to a number of short and long-term complications.

Much more awareness, education and support is required, however often people with diabetes are labelled as “non-compliant” and there is a school of thought that education is futile. I would argue that a different approach is needed, one where health care professionals listen, respond to their patients’ needs and become true partners in their care.

Diabetes requires the individual to self-manage their condition for 98% of the time, they are the experts of their own diabetes and each day is different for them. How can we as professionals “know what’s best”? Often the guidance and policy will emphasise the importance of “patient empowerment” but this term in itself is still deeply rooted in a paternalistic system where the medical professional holds the “power” to “activate” the patient.

In my experience the person with diabetes is someone who fights on a daily basis to manage their condition. Self-care support or person-centred care should embrace an equal relationship where the individual’s personal expertise and the clinician’s medical knowledge form a true partnership, where they can work together to set goals and strategies to enable someone to fully manage their condition both from a medical and social perspective so they are able to adjust to the daily challenges and complexity that living with diabetes means.

I feel passionately that it’s time to change perceptions of a chronic illness that affects millions of people around the world, it’s time to start listening to the impact it has on people’s lives and sharing their stories to end the stigma and myths associated with this devastating illness.

In the 20 plus years since I first started practicing as a podiatrist I have seen the number of people living with foot complications soar. Today alone 23 people in England will have had a diabetes related amputation, tomorrow another 23, the same number the day after and so it will continue. And of those people having to face an amputation around 80% of those cases could have actually been prevented.

Is it okay that so many people are still having their lives ruined by something that with a little more support, education and awareness may well have been prevented? If you don’t think that this is something that will touch your life, you’re probably wrong. Today it’s estimated that 1 in 16 people in the UK have diabetes, but that number has doubled over the past 20 years. Today alone 700 people will have been diagnosed as having the condition. A quarter of people with diabetes will also go on to develop a foot problem.

I desperately want to change these statistics, and I believe that people’s experiences and stories are the most powerful tool to bring about a change.

And for those people who are lucky enough to be living without diabetes but “hate” your feet maybe ask yourself why. Think about how hard they work for you each day, they are incredible – a true marvel of engineering. The network of nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, all working in unison, helps us walk, stand, balance, and run. They contain a quarter of all the bones in human body.

This is why I’ve created the FeelYourFeet community, to make expert foot education accessible and easy to understand, to create a community that encourages conversations and to transform the attitudes we have towards our feet.

Please share your thoughts – together we can drive change.

For more information on diabetes and foot health please click  • here •



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