After a brisk hike in the wilds of the Hebrides, Derek Ripley usually felt tired but invigorated.
The walking breaks with his wife, Judith, and a group of friends were a welcome distraction from his job as a taxi driver in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.
But one evening, back at his hotel, he noticed a slightly sore, red patch on his shin, about the size of a 10p piece.
‘I didn’t think too much of it and just went to sleep,’ says father-of-two Derek, 66, who also has three grandchildren.
‘But when I woke next morning the skin over the patch had broken away and there was a little hole in my leg.’
When it failed to heal after a few days, he went to his GP and was tested for type 2 diabetes – leg ulcers are a classic complication of the disease.
Although Derek was slightly overweight, he was quite fit. But there was a family history of the condition, with his mother and brother both affected.
When the result came back positive, it was clear that diabetes had already started to damage his circulation almost beyond repair.
The tiny ulcer was due to damage to the lining of the major blood vessels supplying the lower half of his body – damage caused by constant exposure to raised sugar levels. As circulation suffers, ‘peripheral’ areas such as the skin on the lower legs and feet become starved of nutrients. If the skin gets sore or even slightly injured, it breaks down.
Derek, then in his mid-50s, didn’t know he was about to descend into a ten-year nightmare during which both his lower legs would become covered in ulcers that would not heal. It would leave him in a wheelchair, in almost permanent agony and facing the terrifying threat of his legs being amputated after doctors tried every available treatment without success.
Some ulcers stayed for years. Others cleared up, only to be replaced by more. Every few days, community nurses would call at his home to change his dressings.
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