A well-choreographed life
Diabetes doesn't slow this family down
Mother and son Kathy and David Winegar don’t fit the stereotype of adults with diabetes. They are thin, fit and — because both are successfully managing their condition with their health care teams — neither have medical problems often associated with diabetics.
“Diabetes is just a fact of life for me,” says Kathy, who at age 57 enjoys regular clogging and square dancing “date nights” with her husband, Bruce. “I don’t want the complications that can arise later on, so I’m trying to take care of myself now.” And that means eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in added sugars; getting regular exercise; keeping track of blood sugar levels; and having regular check-ups with her endocrinologist, a diabetes specialist.
People with diabetes come in all sizes. Many have no symptoms and never suspect they are prone to the disease. Such was the case with Kathy and David, who both were diagnosed in their 20s.
It was on a whim that Kathy did a blood sugar test with her sister’s glucose tester. Her fasting blood sugar was 175, much higher than the normal range of 80-100.
“You might want to get that checked out,” said her sister, who has Type 1 diabetes. Sure enough, Kathy was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She was 29 at the time, with two young children.
David’s Type 1 diabetes was discovered at age 20 during a preliminary examination for enlistment in the Army National Guard. Like Kathy, the diagnosis caught him completely by surprise.
An educational journey
As a child, Kathy remembers that her father, who also had diabetes, never ate sugar. She didn’t realize the potential dangers — including nerve disorders, heart disease and kidney failure — or the balancing act required to manage his condition.
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the levels of glucose — the blood sugars needed for energy — become elevated because the pancreas is not producing enough insulin to regulate them. In people with Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, the pancreas continues to produce some insulin and patients can successfully manage glucose levels through diet and oral medications or insulin injections. Kathy initially started on insulin to quickly get her glucose levels under control. Later she switched to oral medications, but has since returned to insulin for better control.
People with Type 1 diabetes produce no insulin at all. The only way for them to regulate glucose levels is to be on insulin the rest of their lives.
Diabetes is frequently called a silent killer because of its lack of symptoms.
“It was really a God thing” that a routine test in 2000 uncovered David’s dangerously high fasting blood sugar of 496, says Kathy. “It could have gone on for a lot longer and caused serious problems.”
When David was diagnosed, he and Kathy began attending diabetes education classes. They learned the role physical activity plays in diabetes management, that no foods are off limits with proper control — and that their family history predisposed them to diabetes.
Successfully managing diabetes
Today, Kathy and David see their primary care provider, Debbie Gruenbacher, DO, and an endocrinologist as part of their diabetes care team. Kathy maintains excellent glucose control, typically between 77 and 100.
“Kathy understands the importance of control and is motivated to avoid complications,” Dr. Gruenbacher says. “Younger patients are often less conscientious about controlling glucose levels because they may feel invincible and immune to the potential dangers of diabetes.”
David’s levels run 180 to 250 — a little higher than they should be, so he continues to adjust his insulin levels and recently took up jogging to better manage his diabetes.
“My biggest challenge is knowing how much insulin to take with different meals,” says David, 33, who works for Wichita auto dealer Davis-Moore.
“Managing diabetes is all about education and teamwork,” says Dr. Gruenbacher. “Each person is unique so it’s crucial they work with their primary care physician and other health professionals to find the treatment plan that works best for them.”