Updated 21 February 2019

You never get used to it, diabetic double amputee tells of life without legs

Three years after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and a year after his second foot was surgically removed, 52-year-old Joel Mnisi is struggling to adjust to life as a double amputee.

Joel Mnisi (52) was born without any disabilities, but after suffering from sugar diabetes he has had to have both legs amputated and is now wheelchair bound.

Three years after being diagnosed with diabetes, and a year after his second foot was surgically removed, Mnisi is struggling to adjust to life as a double amputee.

Wounds heal slowly

Mnisi has type 1 diabetes, a genetic condition that runs in the family. He lives in a house without wheelchair ramps in Bridgeway Village outside Tzaneen.

He lost his left leg in 2017 after being diagnosed with sugar diabetes a previous year. His right leg was amputated in March 2018 after it starting to swell and got painful, exactly like his left foot.

“It felt like my foot was burnt. There was a blister on my left toe, and because I slept around a fire at a funeral the previous night, I thought I burned myself. I went to the clinic and they gave me medication to treat the wound, but it didn’t heal. So I went to the hospital and that’s when they confirmed the wound was because of diabetes,” he said.

Diabetes is known to cause wounds to heal slowly. According to the Journal of Clinical Investigation, diabetic foot ulcers are a leading cause of amputations and affect 15% of people with diabetes.

Mnisi stays alone in a one bedroom house which he describes as a mountain to climb as he is unable to get in or out without assistance.

Supportive relatives

“It’s very difficult to stay alone, especially when you are a person living with a disability. My house does not accommodate my special needs. It doesn’t have ramps – even for the toilet. My son-in-law is the one who is helping me, but he is leaving to study soon,” said the 52-year-old.

Greater Tzaneen Municipality (GTM) has agreed to assist Mnisi so he can easily manoeuvre around his yard while waiting for an emergency house.

“The Municipality will in meantime organise a ramp for the gentleman so that he can get into his house, and also to the toilet. His name will also be included in the list of emergency houses,” said GTM communication officer Patricia Muchabi.

Mnisi said it has been difficult to accept his disability, although his family has been supportive.

“It has not been a simple to accept the condition. You don’t get used to being without legs, especially when you were born with two good legs. However, my relatives support me and they have also accepted my condition. That also gives me strength to accept, and to realise it’s not all over.”

Image credit: Health-e News


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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