Paying heavy price for feeling bulletproof

INCREASINGLY COMMON SIGHT: Alistair Remihana  disregarded the diagnosis of diabetes 15 years ago and is now paying the price, with his body having "hit a brick wall".
INCREASINGLY COMMON SIGHT: Alistair Remihana disregarded the diagnosis of diabetes 15 years ago and is now paying the price, with his body having "hit a brick wall".

He's huge, he's in serious kidney failure and he's lost the feeling in both legs.

Alistair Remihana, 47, has type-2 diabetes and he's battling a raft of medical conditions, all of which could have been prevented.

The Wellington man was found to have diabetes 15 years ago, but advice from doctors and nurses fell on deaf ears because he thought he was bulletproof. "I ignored everything."

Playing rugby, basketball, golf and surfing wasn't enough to mitigate the litres of fizzy drink he guzzled every day, and the fatty fried food he gorged on.

Three years ago, the former chef began paying the price when his body "hit a brick wall".

Nerve damage took away the feeling in both legs from his thighs down, and he cannot use his right arm and hand.

He needs a walking stick and has had "all sorts of weird and wonderful things" done to his eyes to prevent him from going blind.

Mr Remihana spoke to The Dominion Post while hooked up to a dialysis machine at Wellington Hospital, where he spends between four and five hours three times a week.

He weighed about 160 kilograms when he started dialysis about six months ago.

He lost about 28kg, but has since put it back on.

A thick needle is inserted into his arm to draw blood, which is then flushed through a machine that does the same job as a healthy person's kidneys.

He will need dialysis for the rest of his life unless he is lucky enough to have a kidney transplant.

Bariatric surgery is on the cards to help him get his body mass index down to qualify for a transplant.

He's eating more healthily and has swapped the sugar-laden fizzy drinks for soda water - he discovered he was addicted to the bubbles rather than the sweetness.

"Long gone are the breakfasts of six fried eggs, half a loaf of bread and half a kg of bacon."

Mr Remihana's situation is becoming increasingly common in New Zealand, where more that two-thirds of the population are either overweight or obese.

Diabetes rates in adults were soaring each year across the general population, Capital & Coast District Health Board endocrinologist Jeremy Krebs said.

Rates were higher among Pacific Islanders and Maori, who are also more likely to have kidney failure than other ethnicities.

Type-2 diabetes accounts for about 90 per cent of all cases. The remaining 10 per cent is type-1, which cannot be prevented.

Diet, physical activity and medication could help prevent diabetes complications including kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage, Dr Krebs said.

Type-2 diabetes can be prevented because two of the three main risk factors - obesity and sedentary lifestyle - can be controlled.

While family history cannot be changed, people can break the cycle of inter-generation health expectations where a child expects the same outcomes as their sick parents.

"They think that's their lot . . . and they don't think they can change that [but] they can."

Dr Krebs said while people could help themselves, diabetes was a "social problem" that needed across-the-board action.

"That means Government having the balls to actually address it and not hide behind this concept of ‘it's personal choice' and ‘it's nanny state to take on these things'."

Contact Bronwyn Torrie
Health reporter
Twitter: @brontorrie

The Dominion Post