Significant rise in amputations for Kiwis with diabetes

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

An alarming rise in amputations among Kiwis with diabetes has experts calling for more education and early intervention.

According to data from the Artificial Limb Service, amputations among those with diabetes has increased by 38 per cent between 2016 and 2020, from 806 amputations five years ago to 1111 last year.

The statistics are worse for Māori and Pasifika, with amputations rates rising by 56 per cent for Māori with diabetes in that time period, and 59 per cent for Pasifika with the disease.

Peke Waihanga/Artificial Limb Service chief executive Sean Gray says the rise is “significant”.

“The demand for our prosthetic services for these patients is definitely under pressure, currently demand is greater than our funding and that does present challenges to the organisation and how we ensure everyone gets the care that they need.”

Wellingtonian Mark Gsodam is one of those whose suffered multiple amputations. Doctors amputated part of his left foot six years ago followed by his lower right leg in 2019.

It started with just two small infections which developed after Gsodam cut his own toenails. Gsodam says they didn't heal because his diabetes affected blood flow to his legs. He has a prosthetic right leg and a foot brace for his left leg, but has had to relearn how to walk up and down stairs and get around the house.

“I’ve always considered myself very self-reliant. Now I need a person to be there while I'm having a shower cause I'm prone to falling over. It does brass me off a little bit.”

“If I'd taken better care of my feet, if I'd taken better care of what I was putting into my body in terms of food and liquid, I wouldn't have damaged the arteries…that’s the price you pay for not looking after your body.”

The cost of amputation in New Zealand is estimated at $40,000 per major operation. Diabetes New Zealand says right now around 280,000 Kiwis have diabetes - a figure that could nearly double over the next 20 years.

Diabetes NZ chief executive Heather Verry says the organisation is working with the Ministry of Health to develop an action plan for diabetes and a national strategy for long-term conditions, and it is crucial that podiatry is included.

Podiatrists say they want to see earlier intervention, as by the time they see some clients, it’s too late to prevent amputation.

“You actually lose sensation in your feet … imagine something doesn’t hurt so you don't know somethings happening,” Auckland podiatrist Michele Garrett says.

“I've had patients tell me: 'I didn't know until I was holding the bone hanging out of my toe that this was going to be a real problem’".

“There’s a 25% chance you'll get a foot ulcer living with diabetes … things go wrong and you can end up going from getting an infection to heading to hospital for an amputation in a matter of a few days.”

Renal podiatrist Lawrence Kingi wants to see more education among Māori and Pasifika communities about the importance of looking after your feet if you’ve got diabetes.

“It's quite traumatic having these foot conditions and they don't like coming into the hospital or a health professional so it's about educating, showing them we're there to help them.”

November is Diabetes Action Month. Find out more here