The Artistic Life: My Story of Art and Inspiration after Losing My Vision to Diabetes
How my diagnosis inspired me to use art and education to help people with diabetes understand the importance of prioritizing their vision
Every artist has a story. Mine began at 7 years old when I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. It wasn’t until 1999 when I began to experience problems with my vision – blurred colors and trouble seeing details – that my whole life changed.
My ophthalmologist diagnosed me with diabetic eye disease, a condition caused by my diabetes that left me legally blind. Despite a series of operations, my doctors could only save partial vision in one of my eyes.
I was devastated by my vision loss. I couldn’t work and couldn’t drive. All of a sudden everything about how I defined myself had changed.
When a friend suggested I start painting, it was the last thing on my mind. But when I picked up the brush, it helped me through a very dark time in my life. My limited eyesight gave me a new appreciation for vivid colors and focused my work on what I could accomplish despite vision loss. Soon, I was supporting myself as a professional artist.
I want people to know that their sight is worth protecting. I hope they see my art, hear my story and are inspired to prioritize their vision.
That’s why I came to Nashville.
On November 7, I had the privilege of hosting people from across the city at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital for an evening of art and education to raise awareness for diabetic eye disease. I shared my techniques for painting with vision loss and conducted an art demonstration where I created a piece of art inspired by Tennessee’s state flower – the Iris.
Ophthalmologist Dr. Brandon Busbee was by my side during the presentation to educate the audience about diabetic eye disease and diabetic macular edema (see side bar).
In honor of Diabetes Awareness Month, I also participated in the American Diabetes Association’s Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes on November 9. More than 1,000 walkers descended upon Centennial Park in honor of those touched by diabetes. I had the opportunity to address the crowd with information about the risk of vision loss from diabetes, followed by a live painting demonstration at the DiabetesEyeCheck.org tent.
To learn more about preventing vision loss from diabetes, visit: www.DiabetesEyeCheck.org.
Dr. Brandon Busbee of Tennessee Retina Shares Facts About Diabetes and Your Vision
- Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a leading cause of vision loss for people with diabetes1
- A simple retina (dilated) eye exam can help catch this condition early, and prevent vision loss2,3
- However, 1 in 4 people with diabetes are not getting an annual retina eye exam (Diabetic Connect infographic).4
- If you or someone you love is living with diabetes please encourage them to see an eye doctor that can perform a thorough dilated exam every year.
1 American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is Diabetic Retinopathy? Available at: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/diabetic-retinopathy.cfm. Accessed August 27, 2013.
2 WebMD. The Risks and Complications of Uncontrolled Diabetes. Available at: http://diabetes.webmd.com/risks-complications-uncontrolled-diabetes. Accessed July 26, 2013.
3 Centers for Disease Control. Can’t See Clearly? Get Your Eyes Checked. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HealthyVision/. Accessed July 26, 2013.
4 Data on file. Alliance Health Eye Dilation Survey, May 14, 2013. Genentech partnered with the Alliance Health Network (AHN) to conduct a survey of 1,674 Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients via Diabetic Connect, the #1 diabetes social network in the U.S., to better understand why people aren’t always getting the care they need and the impact of vision loss due to diabetes.
*Based on survey participant rankings
5 Data on file. DME Media Market Prioritization. September 17, 2013.