If ever there was a perfect candidate for diabetes, Kathy Nelson would be that person. Her father died in a diabetic coma at age 80 in 1992, six years after his right leg was amputated, while her mother developed Type 2 diabetes at age 86 and passed away nine years later. The eldest of her two daughters, who is 51 and residing in Jamaica, was diagnosed just over two decades ago and six of her nine siblings have the chronic disease.
Blacks between the ages of 64 and 74 have a one in four chance of developing diabetes and more than two million Canadians have the disease that, if not treated or effectively managed, can result in a number of complications.
Twelve years ago, Nelson established the Canadian Diabetes Association’s Caribbean chapter to raise the level of educational awareness about the disease. She also started an annual expo in 2010.
‘Diabetes is a vascular disease,” Nelson said at the third annual expo at the Jamaican Canadian Centre (JCA). “There is not a blood vessel in your body that it does not affect if it’s not properly controlled. Too many people are living with diabetes without complications so education is the key. They need to know what that blood sugar number means, what they need to do about it if it’s high and what they should eat. The disease can be controlled by the medicine you take, the amount and also the type of food you consume and physical activity.”
A registered nurse, Nelson started the expo because she could not handle the large number of requests for private meetings with individuals suffering from the disease.
“I would go to different parts of the city and also visit churches and shopping malls to see people and talk to them about how they can prevent and manage the disease,” she said. “I, however, felt I could reach more people by doing an expo and bringing in various health professionals.”
The last event at the JCA attracted more than 400 people. Presenters included Dr. Paul Galiwango, staff cardiologist for the Rouge Valley Health System; Mount Sinai Hospital staff endocrinologist, Dr. Jacqueline James and registered dietitian, Angela Forsythe.
The event’s theme was “Head to Toe Diabetes Care”.
Some of the signs and symptoms of diabetes include unusual thirst, frequent urination, fluctuating weight, extreme fatigue and listlessness, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections, tingling and numbness in the hands or feet, cuts and bruises that take long to heal and, additionally for men, challenges in getting or maintaining an erection.
With a history of diabetes in her family, Nelson said she’s consciously aware of what she puts into her body.
“The first aisle I go to in the supermarket is the one with the fruits and vegetables,” said Nelson who works part-time at Mount Sinai Hospital and is a certified diabetes educator. “I also walk a lot and I have a treadmill near the door of my condominium which I use regularly.”
Nelson came to Canada in 1970 and worked at the Princess Margaret Hospital for two years before returning to her Caribbean homeland. She came back to Toronto in 1979 and was employed at Toronto Rehab.
“I worked in a 31-bed stroke unit where the majority of patients were Blacks and South Asians with undiagnosed diabetes,” she said. “I knew from back then that I had to do something to help others.”
The expo brought together products, resources, speakers and experts on subjects ranging from healthy eating and physical activity to medication management.