When out for a night on the town, it’s inevitable that someone will thank Wes Rhodes of Newton for serving in the military. His scars are obvious — he’s lost both of his legs just below the knee.
But Rhodes isn’t a veteran. He didn’t lose his legs battling enemies in a foreign land. He lost them as he battles diabetes.
“I spent a lot of years doing the wrong stuff” Rhodes said. “Not taking my medicine or living an indigenous life as a diabetic.”
Rhodes, now 35, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of 16 — and he rebelled like any teenager would do.
He survived a car accident, and blood testing following the accident helped doctors diagnose Rhodes as a diabetic. That moment changed his life — and the life of his entire family —forever.
Rhodes needed to learn how to take care of himself, part of the problem. He admits as a teen he felt invincible. His stepfather remembers the fights that would ensue anytime John Rhodes spoke to Wes about diabetes.
“I got to the point that if we were going to have a relationship, I knew we were not going to talk about it,” John said. “We couldn’t sit in the same room without fighting about if he was taking care of himself.”
Connie Rhodes, Wes’ mother, cleared all of the sugar from the family home — a lifestyle change for everyone as the family tried to help Wes take care of himself. She tried to learn all she could about treatment of a disease that can be fatal if not properly managed.
She still struggles with the emotional trauma — and the last few years have been most difficult. Her scrapbook about her son isn’t filled with cute photos and pages on fun trips. It’s filled with gruesome photos of foot sores and surgery recoveries.
“Wes has been handed a very tough life,” Connie said. “This has been emotional. I’m not allow to cry in front of him, that makes him go nuts.”
Wes has undergone six surgeries — losing his legs but also receiving a kidney transplant.
It all started with sores on his foot. Doctors removed a toe, then another. By the time they were done cutting on Wes, both his legs were gone below the knee.
His kidneys began to fail, forcing Wes to start dialysis treatments and hope for a donor and transplant. The regimen of dialysis was another change, another challenge of living with diabetes.
“Not only does dialysis take four hours, three days a week, there’s a financial burden and physical burden. You are worm out, you cramp, and it’s not fun.”
Page 2 of 2 - For Wes, losing bits of his body and living with diabetes for nearly 20 years is all water under the bridge. His May transplant changed his perspective, at least a little.
After a painful recovery in the hospital, life is back to as normal as it can get.
“Things are looking up more than they were three years ago,” Rhodes said.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have a few choice words for his teenage self — and a message for those who are diagnosed with diabetes.
“Taking care of myself the right way would have been less of a burden,” Rhodes said.