Wear the right footwear, Ferg urges

Geoff Ferguson has an important message for his diabetes community: “Don’t do what I did. Wear the right footwear.”

Ferg, who some readers may remember as the young carpenter working in 43 degree heat in Winton when he was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 53 years ago, is recuperating after losing his third and fourth toes and a slice of his foot that extends nearly to his heel about two months ago.

His problems started when he spent the afternoon digging up his garden in Brisbane wearing sneakers without socks. He developed blisters on the ball of his foot.

“I’ve had numbness in my feet for years,” Ferg said. His wife, Guilia, (pictured with Ferg), initially treated the blisters at home, and then a GP who was standing in for Ferg’s permanent doctor prescribed antibiotic cream and pills. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

“I went back to the doctor when I had a red streak running up nearly to my knee and my leg was swollen. My usual doctor took one look at it and told me to get straight to hospital.”

His surgeon, Dr Peter Bryant, was preparing to leave Holy Spirit Northside Hospital when Ferg was admitted. A nurse ran to catch the doctor in the carpark after the senior nurse on the ward looked at Ferg’s foot and didn’t like what she saw.

Dr Bryant spent the next 45 minutes cutting away toxic dead flesh from Ferg’s foot. He didn’t need to apply an anaesthetic as Ferg couldn’t feel anything. Ferg was scheduled for more extensive surgery at the first opportunity.

Ferg’s overwhelming feeling when he awoke after losing his toes was relief. Dr Bryant had kept his pre-operation promise hopeful and honest: “I’ll try to save your foot, mate,” he told the 74-year-old keen golfer.

Ferg and Guilia moved to Brisbane from their lifelong home in Bundaberg about two years ago to be closer to their two loving daughters, grandchildren and specialist medical treatment.

Ferg had spent his working life building houses in Bundaberg as if every house were his own. He believes diabetes curtailed his career but also credits the condition with making him extremely determined.

Just as well, because Ferg is now drawing on the resilience he’s learned through his journey with type 1.

“My doctor told me it would take six weeks before I was well enough to go home. I got home in four weeks.

“I’ve been told it will be six months before I’m totally recovered and can get back on the golf course. I’m giving myself four months,” he said. He means it.

Ferg’s recovery is being helped by new technology known as Vacuum-Assisted Closure (VAC), a relatively new wound treatment from the US.

According to the Johns Hopkins website, during the wound VAC treatment, a device decreases air pressure on the wound, which helps the wound heal more quickly.

The gases in the air around us put pressure on the surface of our bodies. A wound vacuum device removes this pressure over the area of the wound.

This can help a wound heal in several ways. It can gently pull fluid from the wound over time. This can reduce swelling, and may help clean the wound. It is unclear if it reduces bacteria.

A wound VAC also helps pull the edges of the wound together. And it may stimulate the growth of new tissue that helps the wound close.

A wound vacuum system has several parts. A foam or gauze dressing is put directly on the wound. An adhesive film covers and seals the dressing and wound. A drainage tube leads from under the adhesive film and connects to a portable vacuum pump.

This pump removes air pressure over the wound. It may do this constantly, or in cycles. The dressing is changed every 24 to 72 hours. During the therapy, the patient is attached to a portable pump day and night.

Ferg’s doctor said healing that would take six months can be achieved in six weeks with this technology.

Ferg contacted Diabetes Queensland to issue his warning to other people with diabetes, discuss his accelerated VAC-assisted healing, but most of all to thank the doctor and nurses who have made such a difference to his recovery.

“The care they gave me was outstanding,” Ferg said. “Peter Bryant, Patricia Walls, Nandani Louchart, Sara Axman-Friend and Serena Louis looked after me in a way that I know has made a difference.

“They were incredible, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Post script: Unfortunately Ferg has undergone another operation and has lost his third toe. He’s doing exactly as the doctor ordered to keep his big toe and little toe on the same foot, which will help his balance.

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