After losing his right leg to complications from diabetes on July 29, Brent Riley is eager to share his story and warn others to be tested earlier than he was.
He also advises diabetes patients to “Stick with the plan,” adding, “I’ve failed. It’s harder than you can imagine.”
Riley, 46, of Hannibal, did not learn he had diabetes until age 28, and was told he probably had it as a child. He believes “If I had been diagnosed as a child, I would have been taking care of myself.”
His wife, Kathy, said “We want people to be aware and not go through what we went through.”
Brent advises that “if it runs in your family, be tested, with no symptoms. ... My grandmother on my mother’s side had it, and my dad had it, both later in life.”
However, none of his siblings - three brothers and one sister - have diabetes.
With his right leg amputated three inches below the knee, Brent is hoping to get a prosthetic leg when he has the funds. He has applied for Medicaid and for disability.
Meanwhile, with Kathy working at D.J. Kidz Preschool, Brent’s mother, Carolyn Riley, comes to their house to care for him.
Carolyn said, “If it had to happen, I’m thankful it was after I retired, so I could be there for them. God knew they were going to need me.”
Kathy said Carolyn “helps us with the kids and takes him to his doctor appointments.”
The Rileys’ children, Dash, 12; and Ella, 8, also help, Kathy said. “Our kids have been great, helping around the house, and it has brought us closer as a family.” Brent helps with homework, and she does the meals.
“I have had my children checked (tested for diabetes),” Brent reported.
People throughout Hannibal also are helping them, the Rileys said. Someone loaned him an electric scooter.
Their home has a ramp, thanks to Holy Family Church donating the material and helping in various ways.
Friends have been helping, Kathy reported. “Chad and Angela Hatton and his dad, Bill, helps us in so many ways.”
Kathy added that “it’s not the donations, but people are just there to help us and that has helped us a lot.” She added that both his family and her family help, and Brent’s brother, Jeff, uses his construction experience.
First symptom was
“If you feel fine but are drinking a lot, be tested,” Brent advised. This is how his diabetes was diagnosed. “I always drank a lot of water, and in 1996 I went to Atlanta during the Olympics and just could not satisfy my thirst. My tongue was swollen.
Page 2 of 3 - “I had a fasting test of my blood sugar, and it was over 200,” Brent said. “It should be not over 140. I started out with pills, diet and exercise and started riding a bike.
“At the beginning I didn’t have much problem, but in 2000 I went on insulin,” Brent continued. “I had to count carbs - they turn into sugar. I started out measuring and weighing food. It did work for awhile, then life gets busy. ... And I was always told I needed to lose weight.”
It was also in 2000 he developed neuropathy, with nerve damage. The term neuropathy is short for peripheral neuropathy, meaning nerve damage in the peripheral nervous system.
This caused “excruciating pain,” Brent said. “My bones ached terribly for two years, then by 2002 the pain was gone, and I couldn’t feel my feet.”
He continued to work as a corrections officer at the prison in Bowling Green until having a foot problem. This was five years ago, Brent explained. “I got home from work and took my boots off, and there was blood on my sock on the top of my toes. My second, third and fourth toes were bent up and the tops were rubbed raw. A golf ball rolled out of my boot. It had broken my toes, but I didn’t know.”
Toes were his
“Then six to eight weeks later my foot and leg were swollen past my knee,” Brent continued. “I couldn’t get my boot back on. The next day I went to the doctor and he put me in a boot cast, but I couldn’t work in the prison with that. ... I was off 12 weeks, then went back and two or three days later felt something snap in the arch of my foot. It did not show on X-rays but when it popped pain shot up my knee.
“Six months later my leg swelled again and the doctor could see a break in the arch of my foot, and he judged it to be six or eight months old,” Brent said. “I was in a boot cast again.” One day he took off the boot cast and saw blood on his sock.
“The doctor found an ulcer on the side of my foot, but there was no pain. It was deep. We treated it for 12 weeks, then one day it was swollen and the ulcer had gone to the bone. They started me on a bunch of IVs with antibiotics and the next day the doctor found it had split open. He operated, and a couple days later a CT scan showed infection in the bone in four toes.
Page 3 of 3 - “The doctor said ‘It could go in remission, but ultimately you will lose the toes.’ So they took all five toes on my right foot.” Brent reported. This was four years ago, and it healed. He had no trouble for awhile and went back to work with orthodontic toe fillers in his special shoe.
“I surprised the doctor with how good I was walking,” Brent said. “Over the years I had half a dozen other ulcers pop up.”
His next problem was vision, three years ago. This was macular edema, causing “blood vessels bleeding into my eyes,” he said. “I had laser surgery to stop the bleeding and about seven months of shots.” He had been told to have his vision checked yearly, but “I put it off,” he admitted.
Brent had no more trouble until this year. By then he was working in a factory, he explained, “on my feet all the time. ... My shoe was slipping, and it formed a blister - a huge blister that covered my foot. My doctor said to stay off my foot, but I said ‘I have to work.’
“On July 17 I came home from work vomiting and had been running a fever for at least a week,” he said. He landed in the hospital, “dehydrated with blood sugar so high it would not register. ... I was on an insulin drip, and the next day I had an infection in the bones again.
“They gave me the option of just foot surgery and said ‘You’re going to lose your leg someday.’ In the hospital I used a computer and read up on it.”
This prompted his decision for amputation. The July 29 surgery required nine hours, Kathy noted.
Brent hopes other people with a family history of diabetes will take action soon than he did, adding that diabetes leads to other health risks. “You can have it for years and feel fine,” he said from his own experience.
“With diabetes you are at greater risk for other things,” he said, including “high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, liver disease, kidney disease, going blind and having limbs amputated.”