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Archive for Friday, January 29, 2010

With diabetes diagnosis comes lessons in healthy living

Gaining control of weight can make disease easier to manage

January 29, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a series of stories focusing on the diabetes epidemic.

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Kansans tackle diabetes through healthy eating, exercise

As waistbands expand in Kansas, diabetes is becoming a serious problem. Some Kansans have fought back against the disease by altering their diets and daily activity levels. Enlarge video

Ginny Conard did lunges while vacuuming, cut soda from her diet, worked with a personal trainer and walked all over northern Lawrence to regain control of her diabetes.

In the process she dropped from 164 pounds to 104 pounds. And while she still needs to take insulin, she’s come a long way in managing the disease.

“When you are overweight and your (blood sugar) readings aren’t correct, you don’t have the energy and you don’t feel good,” Conard said. “Once you get them under control and you go to the doctor’s and you have everything going for you, then you feel a lot better, more energetic, happier.”

In the fight against type 2 diabetes, extra weight is one of the many culprits responsible for the dramatic rise in the disease.

Diabetes isn’t a disease that is managed by a doctor writing a prescription and ordering a procedure, said Jon Stewart, CEO of the Leo Center, which offers a medical clinic for uninsured and needy people.

This complicated disease is “pretty overwhelming, particularly for people who don’t have a lot of support,” he said.

The Leo Center has several health support staff members dedicated to its diabetes program, which helps patients understand what to do after they are diagnosed.

“There are going to be changes they are going to have to make in their life to cope with this thing successfully,” Stewart said.

Conard was diagnosed with diabetes 17 years ago when she was 40 and pregnant with her son. Family history, weight and age all put her at risk for developing gestational diabetes. Still the news was a shock.

“When I first found out that I was diabetic, I thought I had an incurable disease and I was going to die within six months,” she said.

But she was able to control it, even when gestational diabetes developed into a life-long disease after a gall bladder surgery kept her inactive following her son’s birth.

A few years ago, her diabetes started “getting out of control.” She needed to use insulin. And, then her doctor said her weight could be causing liver problems.

It was a wake-up call.

“Right there, that made me stop drinking soda,” she said.

She started attending weekly diabetes support group meetings, which enabled her to get a free three-month gym membership to the Lawrence Athletic Club. From there she hired a personal trainer, who had her lifting weights, doing crunches and jogging.

“Once I started exercising, I started losing weight,” she said.

The need to lose weight is something that hovers over Glenn Bartlett, a 56-year-old diabetic from Eudora.

“If I could get that under control, I would be a lot better off,” he said. “But I have never done it.”

When Bartlett found out nine years ago that he was diabetic, it was a shock. He later learned that all of his father’s siblings had the disease.

Busy as owner of Eudora Auto Parts, Bartlett has a diet that consists of “what I grab and what I take.” He attends the free diabetes education meetings sponsored by Lawrence Memorial Hospital every month for guidance on managing the disease.

“I’m concerned about it. I’m worried about it,” Bartlett said. “I haven’t gotten any bigger, but I need to get littler.”

A change of lifestyle isn’t always easy, especially for those with little time or money.

“Their lives are kind of chaotic as it is,” said Lori Winfrey, a nurse practitioner who sees diabetic patients at Health Care Access. “There’s transportation issues, job issues, buying healthy food issues because of the lack of money.”

For some, Stewart said, success has to be measured in small steps — such as taking the stairs or parking farther from stores to work in a little extra exercise.

“That little bit of movement has a big, big impact,” he said.

As for Conard, she doesn’t have problems staying motivated.

“I just keep thinking of the alternative,” she said. “If I gain any weight, my blood sugar is going to go sky high, and it could cause complications.”

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