DIABETES TALK: U3A Tweed Coast's First Friday Forum speaker on diabetes, Michel Quirk.
DIABETES TALK: U3A Tweed Coast's First Friday Forum speaker on diabetes, Michel Quirk.

Giving the locals the lowdown on diabetes

TWENTY years ago diabetes educator Michel Quirk decided she was going to retire. She finally achieved her goal 12 months ago aged 75.

"Every time I tried to retire, I was somehow pulled back into the health system - first of all part-time but then it always became full time," she said.

"But this time I've done it. I now look after my gorgeous two and half year-old granddaughter Sienna Silver and I'm very happy about that."

However, after working as a nurse for 58 years - the last 37 as a diabetes educator - sharing and caring is part of her make-up.

So it was no surprise that she was happy to tell her story - laced with plenty of advice about diabetes - to a gathering of U3A Tweed Coast members recently.

Michel's career began at Murwillumbah Hospital, took her to Sydney to study midwifery, to Papua New Guinea and then outback Queensland. She was drawn back to the NSW North Coast in the early1980s at which time she became interested in diabetes education, working with Tweed and Queensland Community Health, Tweed Heads Hospital and later in private medical centres.

With about 1.7 million Australians diagnosed with diabetes and 280 new cases being reported every day there was never a shortage of work.

"Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that occurs when the pancreas can no longer produce insulin," Michel explained at the U3A Tweed Coast First Friday Forum.

"It is caused by the environment or genetics and usually affects young people. Type 2 diabetes is more common and occurs when your body becomes insulin resistant. It often occurs in older people but some ethnic groups are more prone to getting it."

Michel described the symptoms of diabetes as increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger, fatigue and blurred vision.

The good news is that Type 2 diabetes can be managed with healthy eating and regular physical activity.

"Medication, a good diet and a change in lifestyle can reduce your symptoms," Michel said. "A 30-40 minute walk every day, dancing and swimming, a healthy diet and losing weight can all help."

Michel warned of the consequences of not looking after yourself if you are diagnosed with diabetes. "You are more prone to suffer a stroke, have heart disease, kidney and circulatory problems, cataracts and bleeds behind the eyes," she said. "It's a serious illness but it can be managed.

"I've had a great career, I've loved it. If it wasn't for my cute little button Sienna I would have died still working."

For information on U3A Tweed Coast and its First Friday Forums, go to tweedcoast.u3anet.org.au.

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