When she woke up, the ED physician asked her if she knew that she had diabetes. Annette was shocked, especially when she learned that her A1C was 17.2% (three times higher than what is considered normal). “Never in a million years did it cross my mind that I might have diabetes,” she said, “in my mind I just wasn’t the picture of what diabetes looked like.” Reflecting back, Annette admitted that she had simply missed the warning signs. Her grandparents, parents, and sibling all had diabetes and, at 48 years old, she was in the average age range for diabetes symptoms to occur. On top of that, she had fallen into several unhealthy eating patterns that significantly exacerbated the problem.
Annette had placed herself at the bottom of her priority list. She always put her children first and made sure that all of their needs were met before attending to her own. This led to meal skipping and replacing foods with sugary drinks. It had become habit to cook for her family and eat their leftovers as her own meal and she would often go an entire day drinking only her morning macchiato and some juice. She knew that it wasn’t good for her, but she didn’t feel that she had time to fix it.
After being stabilized in the ED, Annette was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where she spent the next four days. “I basically slept the entire first two days,” she recalled, “I felt amazing when I woke up.” She assumed she’d be going home soon, but she didn’t have any idea how bad her condition was or how drastically she would need to change her lifestyle.
Annette was devastated to learn that she wouldn’t be discharged in time to see her children go to their high school dance. Seeing how important being with her kids was to her, Meena Khan, MD, the endocrinologist who treated Annette in the ICU, decided that Annette could go home if she promised to follow all the guidelines she had been given. As she left the room, Dr. Khan turned to give Annette a quick thumbs-up and said, “you can do this.” This seemingly small gesture was pivotal for Annette. Knowing that Dr. Khan had such confidence in her made her hopeful and motivated her to do everything she could to get her diabetes under control. “Those four words changed my life,” Annette said.
The weekend after her hospital discharge, she and her husband spent several hours grocery shopping and completely overhauled their pantry. “I knew I needed to immediately change how I was eating,” she said, and she was determined to do everything in her power to make that happen for both herself and her family. While she experienced rapid improvements in her A1C, Annette continued to have issues keeping her blood sugar levels consistent, so Dr. Khan referred her to the Geckle Diabetes and Nutrition Center at GBMC to work with a certified diabetes educator. Annette followed her advice and scheduled an appointment with Rebecca Denison, RD, LDN, CDE.
Rebecca met with Annette, discussed the challenges she was having, and went through her entire diet in detail. She found some gaps in Annette’s eating habits, specifically with dairy. Annette had never included much dairy in her diet because she simply didn’t like many dairy foods. Finding something she would enjoy required a little creativity on Rebecca’s part. She did some research and found a specific brand and flavor of yogurt that would work for Annette. When Annette later told her that the yogurt wasn’t filling enough, Rebecca suggested some nuts that she could mix in. This level of care and detail went beyond anything Annette had expected.
About a month later, at her follow-up appointment with Dr. Khan, Annette’s A1C had dropped to 10.1%. This was an incredibly fast change and the team was legitimately surprised at how quickly she had improved. At her next appointment at the Geckle Center, she shared the news with Rebecca who exclaimed, “Your A1C was what?!” The following month, her A1C was down to 5.6%, which is considered within the normal range. She has been able to cut her insulin doses from four times a day down to one dose and an oral diabetes agent.
Rebecca points her out as one of the most proactive patients she has ever seen. When asked what motivates her, Annette responded by saying:
“It’s about improving my overall health — diabetes affects everything. I decided that no cookie was worth losing my eyesight and that no piece of pie was worth losing my foot. I want to be the best wife and mother that I can possibly be, and I need to be healthy to do that.”
Annette credits much of her success to the support that she had from her friends and family and to the education provided by the Geckle Center. “They gave me the tools I needed and helped me every step of the way.” Her family now refers to her as the “diabetes police” because she makes sure to keep everyone on track when they are together. The way she approaches food has completely changed. She no longer skips meals and is very intentional about what she eats and drinks; her mindset towards life and health has dramatically shifted. While they may find her insistence annoying at times, her family, especially her children, are incredibly proud of Annette and are grateful for her influence on their own health.
Annette successfully turned a frightening diagnosis into a better life for herself and for her family. “I feel like I’ve been given a second chance” she said, “I want to honor that.”