KLANG - People with diabetes are at risk of complications such as nerve damage and poor blood circulation. These make their feet vulnerable to skin sores or ulcers which can quickly deteriorate.
Ulcers that don't heal can cause severe damage to tissue and bone and the patient may even have to have a toe, foot or part of a leg removed. Over 80 per cent of amputations are the result of neglected foot ulcers.
That's why foot care is crucial for diabetic patients.
S. Gnanasuntharavalli has provided this service for more than 50,000 patients, both while working as a nurse and through the Selangor branch of Diabetes Malaysia (DM), which she set up in 2004.
Gnanam, as she is fondly known to friends and family, is one of the winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award this year. Helping those in need comes naturally to the 67-year-old Klangite.
It is truly a labour of love to unwrap bandaged feet, which often have a strong odour, and to tackle a range of problems including calluses, corns, ingrown toenails and fungus. And it's something which Gnanam has done willingly for 15 years.
Prior to her retirement, she was Diabetic Footcare Unit head at the Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah in Klang. So it was only natural that after retiring six years ago, she began providing free foot care to diabetic patients.
The former nurse said she always made sure to provide her patients with extra care and love.
"They used to call me Florence Nightingale, especially when I made my ward visits with torchlight in hand," she said.
"That was during the time electricity was not available."
Some also used to call her "little Mother Teresa", as they found a lot of comfort under her care.
Gnanam said she received a great deal of joy and satisfaction in seeing her patients happy with her service.
"As a nurse, I always looked forward to doing something more than what was expected of me, and that made the difference for the patients and me," she said.
She has received numerous excellent service awards in recognition of her dedication, and has also served as a social worker in Indonesia and Sri Lanka following the earthquake and tsunami in 2004.
Armed with her famous tagline, "We should take good care of our legs, just as we do our face", Gnanam, who is the DM Selangor branch honorary secretary, now spends her free time caring for diabetic patients by giving them foot assessments and cutting their nails.
She makes herself available to diabetic patients twice a month at the DM office in Taman Chi Liung in Klang on Saturdays.
Gnanam said it is important that diabetic patients keep their legs in good shape.
"If they don't, it could lead to amputations and worsen their condition," she warned.
And wearing the right shoes is vital for diabetic patients, she added.
Gnanam offers several types of footcare services to members and non-members for free at the centre - including checking blood circulation, and checking for numbness and loss of sensation.
Diabetic patients are required to do these tests once a year but those with serious conditions should be examined once every six months, she stressed.
"We offer anodyne therapy, a type of light therapy to relieve pain, numbness and circulation problems in the feet, as well as callus assessments and ankle brachial index, which is a test to diagnose peripheral arterial disease," she added.
Gnanam said the nail-cutting services are offered to people who faced difficulty doing it on their own or are unable to pay for such services.
Reflecting on her years of service, the mother of two sons said the happiest moment in her job was seeing one of her patients able to avoid amputation of his foot.
"I managed to do it by offering him footcare services on a daily basis for six months, voluntarily, on both working days and weekends," she said.