Learning to control diabetes

July 19, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Looking back, Dianna Clever, 45, said she isn't surprised that she was diagnosed with diabetes on April 14.

She had been having trouble seeing fine print and had gotten bifocals last fall. She had awoken with a severe thirst in the middle of the night. Her mother had diabetes, was on insulin for 17 years, and died at age 56.

In hindsight, Dale Bird also recognized symptoms he didn't connect with the disease until he got the news from the doctor last February. A volunteer paramedic in Syracuse, N.Y., for 25 years, Bird had seen diabetes in people he had helped. Yet the 53-year-old Smithsburg resident didn't realize what was happening as he pulled into the parking lot of the local grocery store. He was "almost dizzy." His visual perception wasn't right. He called 911.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 18 million Americans have diabetes. Like Clever and Bird, more than a third of the people who have the disease don't know it.


Five to 10 percent have Type 1 diabetes - the form of the disease in which the body fails to produce insulin.

Ninety to 95 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2 - Clever and Bird among them.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn't produce enough insulin or properly use it. Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other foods into the energy the body requires. If insulin doesn't take sugar from the blood into the body's cells, sugar builds up in the blood. Not getting the fuel they need, the cells will be starved for energy. The long-term danger is that the sugar in the blood can damage blood vessels and hurt the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart, according to information on, the Web site of the American Diabetes Association.

Along with their diagnoses, Clever and Bird received prescriptions for medications and instructions to get electronic monitors to check the level of sugar in their blood.

Their doctors also told them about Washington County Hospital's Diabetes Self Management Training at Robinwood Medical Center. The program includes an individual assessment with the nurse educator and dietitian and six two-hour group classes. Additional individual follow-up sessions can be scheduled.

Clever and Bird attended the classes and consider them a great help in managing the disease.

"It's the awareness and getting the support (that helps)," said Bonnie Humphreys, diabetes clinical specialist at Robinwood.

Lifestyle changes - proper diet and exercise - can help. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, showed that people at increased risk for Type 2 diabetes can prevent or delay its onset by losing 5 to 7 percent of their body weight through increased physical activity and reducing fat and lowering calories in their diet.

"You can eat anything you want," Clever said. But it has to be food with the amount of carbohydrates right for her. She monitors her blood sugar four times a day.

In the fall, Clever will begin her 22nd year as a first-grade teacher at Broadfording Christian Academy. She plans and packs her lunch and appropriate snacks. She reads labels and takes advantage of the many low-carb foods available and customizes them to her needs. She's built up to 30 to 40 minutes per day on a treadmill.

Bird also said his diet isn't too restrictive, he just has to moderate his food intake. He's learned the number of carbohydrates in foods and eats what works for him. He said with a laugh that he's counted out 14 French fries at a fast-food restaurant.

Clever said that she's glad for her diagnosis. She can stop the potential degenerative effects of the disease.

She doesn't want to get the complications her mother had from diabetes - numbness in her hands and feet, blindness, congestive heart failure. She has taken control of her own health.

"I want to see my grandchildren," Clever said.

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