Ansel Johnson ’81 is an optometrist at Blue Island-based Vision Salon Eye Care Associates who is working to detect and combat diabetes in his patients.
Among the technology Johnson uses is a device he acquired in December that makes it easier to detect very subtle changes in patients’ color vision that can happen as a result of diabetes.
His 28-year old practice now has about 1,200 patients annually and more than $1 million in revenues. Johnson’s practice utilizes retinal imaging technology. “It’s like taking an MRI of the back of the eye, he said, adding, “instead of just looking at the surface of the eye, we can look inside the eye. A lot of times that has very subtle changes.”
Johnson also conducts A1c blood testing for diabetes and offers a diabetes risk test for patients.
He is a member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and for the past 20 years, he has presented lecture series on diabetes and glaucoma at libraries, churches and schools, he said.
His practice, in partnership with a North Carolina based company, recently began rolling out a formal diabetes education and prevention program for patients called KNOC. It’s an acronym for knowledge, nutrition and ocular health coaching.
With the initial roll out of the education initiative, he is making grants available to cover the cost for patients to enroll in the program and is in conversations with insurance providers to encourage them to cover the costs, he said. Johnson, who considers himself a holistic doctor and partner to his patients’ health care providers, said while physicians refer patients to diabetes education programs, he sees many patients who have never gone or who only went when they were first diagnosed. He is trying to fill the gap, he said.
His life saving message should be followed. Nearly 26 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes, and 79 million have prediabetes placing them at increased risk for developing the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.
African-Americans are 77 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes compared to white Americans and are hit harder by diabetes-related eye complications, according to the association. Diabetic retinopathy, which is damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye that can lead to blindness, is 46 percent more prevalent in African-Americans than whites. In Illinois, roughly 1.3 million people are diabetic and 341,000 of them don’t know it, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Rates are highest in the state among blacks and Hispanics.
Diabetes costs the state an estimated $12.2 billion each year because of complications that include heart disease, stroke, amputations, kidney disease, blindness and death, the Illinois agency reported .The staggering impact diabetes is having on minority communities is what drives Johnson. More importantly, education and prevention can save lives and preserve vision, he said.