Posted on Jan 31, 2013

After Donal O’Brien suffered a foot injury, he was shocked to learn that he would lose a toe. But the most shocking revelation came later: he was a type-2 diabetic, and his diabetes resulted in a foot amputation.

A resident of Currie, Scotland, O’Brien was on vacation in Spain when his problems began. His toe was run over by a woman on a mobility scooter. O’Brien was suffering through the injury a week later when he suddenly collapsed at the Strathspey Steam Railway in Aviemore where he was volunteering.

The 72-year-old was sent to St John’s Hospital in Livingston for emergency treatment. A specialist there suspected that O’Brien had diabetes and ordered tests that confirmed the condition. The diabetes had caused poor circulation and slow healing—and as a result, the toe had become severely infected.

“I was told it was gangrenous and I would lose the toe at least,” O’Brien said. “They had to take my leg off to just below the knee and I was given a prosthetic.” 

O’Brien is one of over a thousand people in Scotland who has suffered a lower limb amputation to diabetes, but he says that’s not end of the problems his condition can cause. 

“I’ve got neuropathy [nerve damage] in my other foot, so there’s no sensation,” he said. “If I damaged my foot I could bleed to death before I know there’s anything wrong, so I have to be very careful.”

As treasurer of the Diabetes UK West Lothian Voluntary Group, O’Brien aims to educate people about being tested for and living with the condition.

“I have to watch what I eat, and I barely drink alcohol now. I have to take insulin daily and check my blood sugar on a regular basis. I walk with a cane and always have to watch where I’m going,” O’Brien said.