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NAIDOC Week: Blind elder's crusade to reduce diabetes in Indigenous communities

An Indigenous woman wearing a rad, yellow and black crocheted hat, in front of an Aboriginal flag.
Mary Hooker hopes to educate Indigenous communities about diabetes and vision loss.

ABC North Coast: Samantha Turnbull

Bundjalung-Biripi elder Mary Hooker is on a mission to reduce the rate of diabetes in Indigenous communities after she was declared legally blind.

Ms Hooker, 59, developed type 2 diabetes 33 years ago, but said she did not take doctors seriously when they warned her of the dangers posed by the disease.

"They told me if I didn't keep my sugar levels under control I'd go blind, that I would have kidney failure, lose the feeling in my feet and fingers, be at risk of heart attack and stroke," she said.

"I didn't listen. I was too busy. I didn't take it seriously. I was stubborn and didn't think it was going to affect me."

Ms Hooker's mother also had type 2 diabetes, as did eight of her 12 siblings.

She said it was a result of poor lifestyle choices.

"Processed foods, not having our traditional Aboriginal foods like fruit and vegetables, not exercising and walking around like we used to do," she said.

"It's just being lazy and living in a modern world and getting caught up in day-to-day activities."

Common story in Indigenous communities

Ms Hooker said unfortunately her family's story was common in Indigenous Australia.

Thirty-seven per cent of Indigenous adults have diabetes, and 13 per cent have already lost vision, according to a 2015 report by the University of Melbourne Indigenous Eye Health Unit.

Mary Hooker close-up wearing sunglasses and beanie
Bundjalung-Biripi elder Mary Hooker is an ambassador for NSW Guide Dogs.

ABC North Coast: Samantha Turnbull

Since she was declared blind in 2012, Ms Hooker has been on a mission to reduce diabetes in Indigenous communities.

She was appointed an ambassador for NSW Guide Dogs and has been travelling across the state throughout NAIDOC Week to educate people about the dangers of diabetes.

"I was raising my two grandkids when I started losing my vision, and I had to hand them back to their mum because I couldn't look after them," she said.

"I lost my independence because I had to give up driving and I had to start relying on everyone else.

"People need to realise you can't replace your eyes once you've lost them."

'We need to get off our bums'

Ms Hooker has also been on a personal mission to improve her own health.

"I'm in a healthy heart program and I've gone from 119kg to 108kg in six weeks, and my insulin has had a big drop," she said.

"I've been exercising and I've changed my diet, and I've started listening to doctors."

However, she said she regretted not looking after her health earlier, and she hoped others learnt from her mistakes.

"We need to get off our bums and be healthy and encourage our kids to do the same," Ms Hooker said.