Diabetes in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley: ‘The Inevitable Inheritance’

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Residents of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas lose limbs and appendages to diabetes-related amputation at a rate 50 percent higher than anywhere else in the United States. So many people there have diabetes, that “In the Valley, there’s a fatalism associated with the disease, often considered an inevitable inheritance.” While losing a limb is horrible under any circumstances, as Sophie Novack reports at Texas Observer, the greatest tragedy is that because the vast majority of diabetes-related amputations are preventable with education and early intervention, it doesn’t have to be this way.

So he waited. Maybe it would pass.

Finally, the smell got unbearable. Like road kill in the hot South Texas sun. A couple of months after the blister appeared, Zamora drove 2 miles to Valley Baptist Medical Center, where doctors quickly diagnosed him: His diabetes, uncontrolled for years, had blocked blood flow to his toe, preventing it from healing. What began as a minor blister was now a life-threatening emergency. Zamora says the doctors sent him home with medication to treat the wound, but a few weeks later he went back to the ER, where he had two toes on his left foot amputated to prevent gangrene from spreading up his leg.

It’s a story told over and over again in the Valley: You don’t know you have diabetes until it’s severe, because you rarely see a doctor. You get a cut or blister but ignore it, because diabetes-related nerve damage means you can’t feel it, or you’re too busy working or taking care of your family to go to the doctor. The wound gets infected. By the time you get help, the infection is so bad that amputation is necessary. You can’t afford proper care, so sometimes the wound gets infected again. You get another amputation.

…amputations are important indicators that something went wrong with diabetes management, because they’re generally preventable in patients who can access diabetes education and primary care.

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