Teaching diabetic patients to

“If only I’d known about proper foot care I’d probably still have both legs,” says amputee and diabetic Jim Letourneau, a patient at St. Joseph Health Care London’s Parkwood Hospital. While taking care of your feet may seem too simple a solution for preventing amputation, this claim is supported by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) that estimates 50 per cent of all diabetic amputations could be prevented with proper foot care education.

When Jim noticed the infection on his foot, his physician told him to go to the hospital for treatment and take a month off work to allow his foot to heal. But Jim, admittedly stubborn, tried to treat the infection at home so he wouldn’t lose work time. The infection went from bad to worse, and ended in amputation.

Suspecting that many diabetics don’t receive foot care education, nurse clinician Kyle Goettl conducted a year-long study with newly-admitted diabetic amputee patients. His findings, published in Wound Care Canada, echoed the ADA claim by revealing that almost half of these patients had never received information about looking after their feet.

Kyle and his colleagues rectified this situation by partnering with companies that supply foot care products and prosthetics to create a foot care bag. This bag contains lotions and creams, pamphlets, a thermometer to test water temperature, and a telescopic mirror to help patients check the bottom of their feet and amputation site(s) for wounds.

Many diabetics lose the protective sensation—the sense of feeling—in their hands and feet. Unless they see a cut or sore they don’t know there’s anything wrong. “By checking their feet at least once a day, people living with diabetes can notice skin problems early, take the appropriate action and thereby reduce the odds of requiring an amputation,” says Kyle. “In this particular case we are trying to prevent a second lower limb amputation which unfortunately occurs 50 per cent of the time within about three years of the first.”

Amputee patients now receive the foot care bag when they’re admitted to Parkwood, and learn to check their feet and amputation site(s) daily. Patients stay in the amputee rehab program an average of three weeks, so by the time they’re discharged the habit of checking daily for wounds is firmly ingrained. “The foot care bag is fantastic,” says Jim, the first patient to receive the foot care bag. “No one ever told me about proper foot care before.” The amputee rehab team is hoping that by educating amputees and providing them with the foot care bag, they will have fewer repeat amputee patients.

Kyle Goettl has also created a video, funded by the chronic wound and skin health team, to educate newly diagnosed diabetics about the importance of proper foot-care practices. If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of this video please call 519-685-4292, ext. 42542.