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Sep 26, 2019

Healthy Living: Saving Limbs, Saving Lives

Every six seconds, someone in the world dies from diabetes. That’s as much time as it took me to read that statement. According to the International Diabetes Federation in 2017, there were four million diabetes-related deaths worldwide. It’s not a different picture here in Belize, where diabetes related complications continue to be one of our leading causes of death. With an approximate fourteen percent of our population living with diabetes, death is not the only complication. Improperly managed diabetes can also lead to loss of sight, loss of organ function, and loss of limbs. That’s why a team of specialists form the Unites States has been visiting Belize for the past five years working with medical professionals to improve the care and treatment of diabetic patients. A partnership between the Ministry Health, the Belize Diabetes Association of New York, Belize Nurses and Midwives Council, and the Diabetes Foot Center Group a group of nurses is receiving training on wound care for diabetics. In tonight’s Healthy Living, we find out more. 


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

“Saving Limbs. Saving Lives” – that’s the motto of the Diabetes Foot Center Group. Doctor Steven Wells is the C.E.O. and founder of the group, which aims to help educate and reduce the number of people whose limbs are amputated due to diabetes. Doctor Wells and other specialists have been visiting Belize for the past five years.


Dr. Steven Wells, Foot and Ankle Surgeon, Diabetes Foot Center Group

“I originally came with the Belize Diabetes Association of New York; they brought me in because there are so many amputations here in Belize. That’s my area of expertise.”


Claudia Barnett

Dr. Claudia Barnett, Diabetes Foot Center Group

“For me it’s personal. My grandfather was born and raised here, and he actually died here. So that made you even more willing to come on my own time the first year I came. I came because I saw a need and I wanted to be here, and it was a personal connection to Belize.”


The first four years, the group worked with the medical staff at K.H.M.H. seeing and treating diabetic patients. Their biggest concern was the number of patients who were being amputated. Doctor Magnalena Garcia, a medical officer at K.H.M.H., says it is a well-documented problem faced in Belize.

Magnalena Garcia

Dr. Magnalena Garcia, K.H.M.H.

“We did a study in 2014 at K.H.M.H.; we had about seventy patients there.  Out of the seventy patients, thirty-two had received amputations. Whether they were toe amputations, they were trans metatarsal amputation; whether they were above the knee amputations and below the knee amputations.  It was alarming to know these statistics we were seeing. So, therefore, having these two groups would give us the training to prevent these amputations.”


Dr. Claudia Barnett

“They lose their limbs because they don’t understand what the warning signs what the warning signals are if they think they have a cut and it develops into a sore they think I’ll clean it off with peroxide or ill wash it off I’ll put a band-aid and I will bet ok. That is not the situation with diabetes. It has to be treated properly.  Amputation is the resolve here. Instead of patient care.And that basically because people are not prepared. There is no podiatrist here in Belize. That’s major. And especially when there are so many people losing their limbs. We have to educate people who are here.”


Steven Wells

Dr. Steven Wells

“Once your sugar goes high, it damages all the cells of your body. But the ones that are most susceptible are the blood vessels and also the tissues of the body, so that makes you more susceptible to infections and ultimately that leads to you developing an infection which can cause you to lose your limbs. So we can connect the dots about the real issue is understanding why diabetes is so deadly. It not only causes you to lose your limb, but what we know is within a few years you lose your life.”


So after four years of working directly with patients during their mission trips, the group has now shifted their focus to education, which they all hope will be more effective than amputation.


Dr. Claudia Barnett

“Our approach is to educate nurses and midwives because they are here when we leave they’re the ones that actually touching they patients, so we’re educating them how to work with the diabetic patient here and take care of wounds. Wound care is a big issue.”


Dr. Steven Wells

“I wanted to give the nurses the ability to train the doctors and train themselves and train the patient to really be able to manage the diabetes. So education really is the thing that we went to teach them. So they are learning how to manage their own diabetes and see the dangers and the danger signs of perhaps even losing their limb.”


Dr. Magnalena Garcia

“These patients are coming very late. One, because we would like that the primary care meaning the polyclinics that they would ahem more education so that we prevent these patients coming in at the late stages. Once the patient is admitted, we need to focus on more on trying to save the limb rather than amputate.  Once you’ve had an amputation, the first year you have a forty percent chance of mortality. After five years, you have eighty percent mortality rate with these patients. So it is quite alarming, and we need to make prevention.   So, therefore, the first contact the patient sees the nurse, so therefore we have the nurses at the different stations enforcing and implementing the prevention.”


The long term goal is much broader. Belize has one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes in the region. Doctor Wells and his group are hoping that education can be the change to saving limbs and more importantly saving lives.


Dr. Steven Wells

“I’m hoping that Belize will be a leader in the region. I have a vested interest to see Belize do well.   I want every Belizean to live a full life. So we talking about quality of life we’re talking about a happy life a full life a life without disease without suffering, and we have enough issues diabetes shouldn’t be one.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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