Gayle was driving when she first noticed changes with her eyes

In 2008, Gayle, who has type 1 diabetes, was told by an eye specialist that she had macular degeneration, an age-related, degenerative eye disease. She had laser surgery on both eyes.

The following year she was driving an elderly friend into town. “I suddenly noticed the white line on the road wasn’t straight; it was bendy. That’s when I got scared,” Gayle said. “I pulled over and said to my friend, ‘Will you drive?’ When we got into town I walked straight into my doctor’s office, nervous as a kitten.”

Gayle’s quick action saved her sight. She saw another eye specialist, who said she didn’t have macular degeneration at all, but diabetic retinopathy, where the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye are damaged. It’s the most common eye problem in people with diabetes.

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness in working-age Australians, but with regular eye checks, most vision loss is preventable. This is why Diabetes Australia is urging the 1.3 million Australians with diabetes to sign up to KeepSight, a new, free national eye-check reminder program.

After two years of injections in her left eye, Gayle’s sight is now back to almost normal. “When the ophthalmologist said, ‘Your eyes are so much better, you don’t need any more injections’, I got out of my chair and hugged him.”

Now 70, Gayle, who lives in Stanthorpe in Queensland, has her eyes checked every year. “If anything starts to go haywire it will be more often, but so far, so good. The ophthalmologist said my eyes are in terrific condition,” she said. “I’ve made a few adjustments in my life to make things easier. The only thing I can’t do much anymore is reading. I can’t read more than a few pages before my left eye starts to ache.”

Gayle finds that at night it is more difficult to distinguish between things. She has also had to attach luminous tape to the edge of each stair at home to stop her walking into them at night, but she still drives and enjoys sewing patchwork and modern embroidery, though she admits that sometimes she has to ask her husband, Jim, to measure her patchwork fabric for her.

“I won’t give in to anything unless I have to,” she said. “My GP said, ‘For a 70-year-old with diabetes you’re doing pretty damn well.’ I consider myself very lucky. I’ve got my eyesight and no problems.”

Gayle has two children and three grandchildren, aged 13, 18 and 21. Her son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 10. “He knows to go for regular eye checks,” she said. “He has a care plan all set up.”

Gayle said her story shows it’s important to have regular eye tests. “And I urge people to seek help immediately if something’s not right. Run, don’t walk, to an optometrist. Don’t waste any time or think it’ll just go away.”

The KeepSight program will alert you when it’s time to have an eye test. If you haven’t had your eyes checked recently you can download a referral card to take to your local eye health professional for a diabetes eye check. The program will also send you important eye health information.

“I hope my story can help someone else,” Gayle said. “If you pay attention to your body, there will be a happy ending.”

To find out more about the KeepSight program visit www.keepsight.org.au. Take a minute and register today to never lose sight of future eye checks.