Shane Torrance lost both of his legs to diabetes. Photo: Jonty Dine.

‘Take diabetes seriously or end up like me’

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As a young man, Shane Torrance believed he was bulletproof.

Shane played sport, had a physically-intensive job, would eat and drink as he pleased and gave little regard for his health.

So when, at 20-years-old, he was found to have type one diabetes, Shane more or less disregarded the diagnosis.

“I was straight onto insulin four times a day and being told ‘you can’t eat this, you can’t do that,’ but I was doing it anyway. My control was pretty poor, I didn’t look after myself.”

Shane’s lifestyle would eventually catch up with him.

Shane Torrance had to relearn to walk after losing his legs. Photo: Jonty Dine.
Shane Torrance had to relearn to walk after losing his legs. Photo: Jonty Dine.

November is Diabetes Action Month – an awareness campaign that focuses on educating New Zealanders about diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto immune disease usually caused by the body’s immune system destroying insulin-producing cells, eventually making the insulin-producing organ, the pancreas, useless.

Shane was passing out at work, thirsty all the time, and would often feel like he was being “boiled from the inside”.

It began with burst blood vessels in the back of his eye which needed to be scraped out. This led to him becoming legally blind.

Next the disease began to attack his extremities. An ulcer on his middle toe required amputation and doctors implored Shane to stay home and put his feet up.

But with a wife and kids to support, Shane persisted with his manual work as a painter decorator.

“The side of my foot went mushy, so they did surgery and put some screws in which held me up for about two years, but then it started to fall again.”

Suffering incredible pain, Shane then made the difficult decision to have his right leg removed from the knee down.

With his left leg having to bear the extra weight, it took only two years before the effects took their toll and Shane became a double amputee.

Shane had to adapt to life on crutches and in wheelchairs as he awaited prosthetics. He required a lot of counselling to deal with the loss of limbs and eyesight.

“There was no way it was going to get me, but it did. It can get anybody, I got very depressed from not being able to function properly.”

Once fitted with his new legs, Shane had to relearn how to walk.

“I thought my life would be over physically, I had to sit and watch other people walk, but it only took about a week of slowly thinking about where to put my feet and I was away.”

It was during this period that Shane made significant changes in his life. He got himself an insulin pump, a diabetes nurse, overhauled his diet and stopped drinking.

“I wish I had given it up earlier, I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t.”

Shane also started volunteering at Presbyterian Support, working in the kitchen or just generally connecting with the residents.

The new lifestyle would drastically improve Shane’s health and mental well-being.

“Life with diabetes is a 24-hour thing, you have to be on top of things to run properly, you don’t get Sundays off.”

Shane says it was a costly lesson.

“I might still have my eyesight and be able to work if I had listened to the professionals. You need to do the right things rather than try to live life like everyone else, you can’t ignore it and I did for a long time.”

“It can be very debilitating, it never gives up, every meal, every exercise, you have to plan. It’s a real hassle, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

Shane says a good diabetic does the same thing every day.

“I didn’t listen to the doctors, but my advice is to take it seriously or you’ll end up like me.”

The 57-year-old has since enjoyed a much more active life, completing the Wairua Warrior obstacle course with some friends, and joining a wheelchair basketball league.

“I’ve got four kids and if I give up, they think they can give up too.”

Shane hopes his experience can be a cautionary tale for diabetics.

“You have to change your life, or it will kill you.”