A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes helped this workaholic turn her life around
Maria Santino (her name has been changed to protect her privacy), 43, has always been a pillar of strength. A workhorse, she calls herself, who has a hard time asking for help. Then, ten years ago, she received a good scare—one that threatened her life and changed her thinking for good.
The Illinois native had always been healthy, riding her bike to and from work when the weather permitted, and running at least two miles every other evening. Her diet was wholesome as well, though she admits to the occasional indulgence in fried foods. "It's popular in Hispanic culture," she explains.
At age 33, she took a job in Texas, as an administrative assistant at an orthopedics practice, and her 10 to 12 hour workdays left no time for exercise. Her eating habits slid downhill. "All day long there was junk food being dumped on my desk, and within eight years my weight ballooned to 203," Santino recalls.
She may have missed some of the signs that danger was lurking. "I had no time to go to the bathroom and I rarely drank anything, so being thirsty was a usual sensation for me," she says. On weekends, she felt tired enough to indulge in long daytime naps but still couldn't shake the sleepies. "I was listless and wrung out, but I attributed it all to stress," Santino notes. She also developed persistent heartburn and indigestion: "I figured my boss was giving me an ulcer."
A constant belly cramp finally drove her to the doctor, who scheduled an endoscopy and upper GI and a lower GI. But before she could make it to the appointment, Santino was literally knocked to the floor with stomach pain. "My husband drove me to the emergency room, and I spent seven days in the hospital."
Her blood sugars were through the roof. "The doctors were astounded that I hadn't had a heart attack or stroke already," she says. After leaving the hospital, she followed up with an endocrinologist, who diagnosed type 2 diabetes. "At that point, I knew I had to do something for myself and that was to get healthy."
And get healthy she did. She began to test her blood sugar five or six times a day, and cut out anything fried or white, focused on lean proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables, and stocked her desk with protein bars. She also began to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes, every other day. Within three months she able to discontinue her use of oral diabetes medications. After five months she'd lost 44 pounds. "My triglycerides came down to 79, and my A1C came down to 4.3."
Now she checks her blood twice a day and her diet is stringent. "When I first started measuring I was like, 'This is a portion of rice? Where did it all go?' But put that with a cup of vegetables, a piece of meat and your fruit on the side, and you realize it's a good, balanced meal." Santino also makes sure to stay active, walking and jogging up to an hour and a half every other day. "A lot of people think once you get diagnosed with diabetes that's it. But you can be active and healthy as long as you're smart about what you do."
Originally published in Diabetes Focus magazine, Spring 2010