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Diabetic raising awareness about retinopathy

Diabetes and its resulting blindness were simply challenges to overcome for Kim Skibsted.

A diabetic since age three, the 55-year-old lost her sight at 25 to diabetic retinopathy, swelling and leakage from retinal blood vessels caused by elevated blood glucose levels. Blind after seven surgeries over six months, she drew inspiration from a blind Canadian National Institute for the Blind specialist who helped her cope.

“I was young and feisty when I lost my sight. You have to figure things out and if you don’t know, ask someone who does. It’s problem solving.”

A CNIB vision loss coping program taught her to deal with daily living and she later spent eight years getting two university degrees, which led to her becoming a speech language pathologist, a position she’s held in Red Deer for 21 years.

“It’s wonderful for me. I’m working with small children and it’s fun and very rewarding.”

Her degrees came with a lot of help from many volunteers and she and Linda McKay, her current CNIB volunteer, are dear friends after pairing together 12 years ago.

“She’s amazing for me. Imagine running your life with your eyes closed and everything it takes. She helps with that.”

McKay comes to Skibsted’s downtown apartment once weekly to help with odd jobs, although Internet efforts take the most time.

“A lot of Internet stuff isn’t very user friendly for the blind, (but) she’s very independent and does a lot for herself,” says McKay modestly.

Skibsted uses the web for her own volunteerism, collecting donations for Alberta Sports and Recreation for the Blind events like a Calgary fundraising run this weekend. She sits on the boards of Cosmos Community Disability Services Foundation and the local CNIB, as well as running Visionaries, a vision-loss support group.

The newly blind or those losing their sight need emotional support most, she says.

“You’re so full of fear. When you relax, your other senses help you a lot. I try to be solution-focused.”

The basics of testing and correcting blood sugar levels is easier thanks to technology, but early detection of the disease and its complications remains vital.

“Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness for Canadians under 50,” she says, adding more than 40,000 Albertans have some form of it.

Getting opthalmological eye tests can help diabetics ensure they don’t succumb to blindness as well.

“With Wednesday being World Diabetes Day, we need to think about what we can do about keeping those numbers down.”



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