Diabetes: Jackie Robinson’s Secret
This past Sunday was Jackie Robinson Day, the day that Major League Baseball celebrates the achievement of Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball and honors him by allowing all players to wear his league-retired number 42. As I was watching the Yankees and the Angels, all with his number on their backs, I got to wondering. Everyone knows Jackie’s accomplishments on the field, but do they know that he died young and how he lost his vision. While Robinson’s contributions to civil rights cannot be denied, he lost a great chance later in life to be the advocate for the disease that is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
Robinson had type 2 diabetes, a fact he kept hidden from the public. He was diagnosed towards the end of his career and was prescribed insulin as treatment. The disease cost him his sight, leaving him almost entirely blind by his untimely death at 53. You may wonder how a systemic disease like diabetes can affect vision. Well, diabetes is a vascular disease. It affects every blood vessel in the body, even those tiny ones that feed the retina in the eye. Because the retinal vasculature is so small, they can be damaged before any other blood vessels in the body. The damage from diabetes can cause hemorrhages and abnormal healing in the retina, and if the retina is damaged then the eye will progressively lose its ability to see.
So if you are diabetic, what can you do to preserve your sight and keep your retina healthy? Unfortunately, your chances of progressing to retinopathy and your vision being affected increases every 5 years that you have the disease. However, if you can successfully manage your diabetes, then you can decrease your chances of losing vision. Managing your diabetes means maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise as recommended by your doctor. Taking all your prescribed medications will help control your blood glucose levels and prevent vascular damage. Also, visit your regular eye doctor yearly for your routine dialated eye exam. Your eye doctor can identify diabetic changes in your eyes before they affect your vision, and together with your regular doctor adjust your treatment to prevent as little vision loss as possible.