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Finding Purpose in the Face of Illness: the Power of Family Intervention

05/02/2016 14:09 GMT | Updated 02/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Parenthood is a right of passage that many people look forward to with pleasure and enthusiasm but what happens when you find yourself parenting your own father instead of your children? This was exactly what happened a couple of years ago when brothers Anthony and Ian Whitington decided they must act fast to save their dad, Geoff, from himself.

Geoff had been living with type 2 diabetes for nine years. He was despondent, hopeless and entirely helpless in the face of this illness. He was told that it is a progressive and manageable disease and put on tablets to control his blood sugar. He was already on medication for rocketing cholesterol and 'death high' blood pressure so the prospect of more pills didn't phase him. In fact he was quite glad of them. In his head, it meant that he could keep going with his dangerous habits while the medication did its bit in stopping them from killing him. The pills were a license not to change anything as far as he was concerned.

Geoff was 62 years old, bordering 20 stone and fuelling his night shifts as a security guard with fast food. He had always lived this way and, despite his slowly declining health, he could still get to work and do a good job, so what was the problem? The first problem was his complete ignorance of the systemic nature of the disease that was slowly killing him. With every day that he lived with raised blood glucose levels he was heightening his risks of heart attacks, strokes, blindness, cancer, dementia, kidney failure, impotence and amputation.

It was the very real prospect of amputation that gave him, and his family, the jolt that saved his life. When the arch in his left foot collapsed as the result a related condition called Charcot's Foot, he saw, for the first time, that actually there was a problem, with or without the pills. This condition is a direct result of poor circulation leading to deformity, infection and potentially amputation. At this point, his sons decided they weren't prepared to lose their dad, even one piece at a time.

There is a great deal said about the impact of a healthy lifestyle in preventing type 2 diabetes and plenty about a healthy diet in particular helping to slow the advancement of the disease once it takes hold. Anthony and Ian hoped they could break the life long habits that had literally shaped their dad and agreed they needed to take control of his health if he was struggling to do so.

This was not an easy task. Both men were building careers and had family commitments aside from their ailing dad. Neither of them felt that they had the time they needed to devote to sorting him out but they found a way. After a few painful conversations and a fair number of arguments, Geoff understood that his poor health didn't apply to just him but also to those that loved him and would have to care for him and support him if this disease was allowed to continue its relentless acquisition of his body.

Calling on their experience as filmmakers, the brothers armed their dad with a Go-Pro and instructed him to film everything. The camera was their eyes and ears as well as a means of keeping him in check if they couldn't be there to do so. Anthony, being geographically closer, concentrated on getting Geoff moving and eating better. The filming was important: it was making Geoff accountable for his behaviour and significantly more aware of it too. It turned out that the footage was hilariously watchable and increasingly relevant to a growing number of people. At this point Anthony and Ian looked to crowdfunding and the documentary, Fixing Dad, was born.

The film is a humorous, heart warming and inspiring look at how health and outlook can be turned around with the right support, the right information and sheer determination even if there are times when only delusion and hope can keep you going.

With love, support and an abundance of their three-way stubbornness, Geoff and his sons made it through. Geoff is not only 6 stone lighter, he is (mostly) a reformed man. He has a new love of cycling and will be competing in the London-Surrey 100 again this year. He has finally learned to enjoy cooking; he speaks around the world about diabetes from a patient's perspective and, above all, he can now truly stand on his own two feet. And that's not bad going for a man facing amputation a couple of years ago. Oh, and he's not rattling with pills any more either. But the best bit? Geoff, Anthony and Ian are all closer, happier and on a mission together.

You can watch their journey at http://www.fixingdad.tv

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