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Local engineer and sports enthusiast lays out plan for good health and vision

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of six, 32-year-old Michael Zabel can hardly recall a time when the disease wasn’t a part of his life. “I remember when I was little; the doctor always told me it was important to have my eyes checked every year.”

Careful planning and monitoring of his condition has paid off for Zabel, an urban planner who designs roads and bridges for an engineering firm in Menomonee Falls. His vision is 20/20 in both eyes without glasses or contacts. Despite his perfect eyesight, however, Zabel was recently given surprising news from his ophthalmologist Dr. Mark Freedman. During a regular comprehensive office visit, Freedman detected bleeding in both of Zabel’s eyes.

“Mr. Zabel was smart and fortunate. His vigilance in maintaining proper blood sugar levels and scheduling regular eye exams enabled us to catch diabetes-related damage to the blood vessels of his retina before they could impair his vision. If he had waited until he noticed symptoms, it probably would have been too late to preserve his eyesight at its current level of excellence,” notes Freedman, a leading area eye surgeon and lecturer on diabetic eye disease.

“It was kind of scary to think that even though I thought everything was okay, I didn’t really know what was going on in terms of my eye health,” said Zabel. Following laser treatment, however, his vision remains stable at 20/20. Zabel utilizes his good vision at work and play. He is quick to point out the importance of exercise, “That goes for anyone, not just diabetics!” he stresses. Zabel, who never let his diabetes stop him from playing sports as a kid, is still an avid soccer player and water skier. “When I can’t play soccer, I like to go for a run or a work-out at the gym. You need to take a look at the bigger picture of your health and stay active and get routinely checked—you can’t afford not to.”

Whether a person is a type 1 or 2 diabetic, young or old, Zabel has one last bit of advice to share, “You need to see your ophthalmologist. It will give you peace of mind. You can’t be your own eye doctor. You can’t see what’s going on inside your eyes—only the doctor can.”