Last night, I heard the most amazing talk about diabetes-related foot complications. (There are words I never thought I’d write.)

Because actually, the talk was about PREVENTION of amputations. Now, I’m not talking about prevention in the sense of ‘Check your feet daily, see a HCP regularly for a foot check or if you identify problems, and wear sensible shoes’, advice I have always taken selectively. (Happy to check my feet, happy to have a HCP check my feet. But I just bought these boots…so I guess two out of three ain’t bad.)  This talk was about prevention of major amputations, thanks to different surgical techniques that can save limbs.

A/Professor Ramon Varcoe, a vascular surgeon from Prince of Wales Hospital in NSW, is my new hero. I listened to his talk absolutely enthralled and amazed. Let me count the ways I adored what he said last night:

  1. He didn’t show gory pictures. (Thank you. Thank you. Thank.You.)
  2. He acknowledged that diabetes is a really difficult condition to live with.
  3. Furthermore, he acknowledged that those who have needed diabetes-related amputations face a really tough future.
  4. He explained in terms this pinhead could understand the techniques he uses to save legs from needing to be amputated. In VERY basic terms it is a technique similar to the surgery used to open arteries in the heart… a fine wire is inserted into the artery and a ‘balloon’ is used to open the artery. (He concluded his explanation by saying ‘Bob’s your uncle; we can ‘revascularise’ the limb’, making it sound so simple that anyone could do it in their kitchen on a rainy afternoon. For the record, maybe don’t do this in the kitchen on a rainy – or sunny – afternoon.)
  5. One way he framed his thinking was to say ‘Think of this as a ‘foot attack, the same as a heart attack’.
  6. He also (almost regretfully) told the audience that very few vascular surgeons perform this surgery and then went on to list the barriers: diabetes foot disease is not sexy; there is limited expertise in the filed now and learning the techniques requires retraining and great skill and there is no kudos (unlike heart surgery which does draw glory!)….Another example of the image problem that diabetes has!
  7. He explained that this technique is less invasive, far, far cheaper to perform, hospital stays are less, the PWD recovers much quicker, and – GET THIS! – the results are outstanding. In fact, reducing major amputations by 62%.
  8. He explored how we make people with diabetes know this technique for saving limbs is available, and said that it is really, really important to inform PWD about it so that they can ASK for it and not just accept a diagnosis of requiring an amputation. He said that this was the group that could really drive change here, by demanding that they have the best treatment possible. (I nearly stood up and applauded at that, but glad I didn’t because the event was at Parliament House and there were a lot of MPs and senators in the room and I was trying to behave).
  9. He called on better training of clinicians and campaigns to raise awareness of the procedure directly to PWD (you know – an amputations prevention initiative?!) which is exactly what we need. EXACTLTY.
  10. And he finished by saying: ‘My vision is for there to be no more major amputations. I hate this operation. Major amputations destroy people and destroy families. And it’s preventable.’
A/Professor Ramon Varcoe

A/Professor Ramon Varcoe

This event was coordinated by Diabetes Australia in association with the Parliamentary Friends of Diabetes Support Group, co-chaired by Rowan Ramsey MP and Graham Perrett MP. I work for Diabetes Australia.