Living with Diabetes: The Stories of Three Patients and the Daily Lessons Learned While Managing the Disease

Ray Pelton likes to play pickleball, a game that uses a paddle and ball like tennis. So the retired human resources executive didn’t think much about being sweaty in the summertime — until he landed in the Emergency Room six years ago. He was diagnosed with diabetes. “It was kind of a shock to me,” recalls the resident of the 55-plus Solivita community in Poinciana. “I have no family history of diabetes at all. None.”
Michael Adams of Haines City and Roy Price of Winter Haven were both diagnosed with the disease after abnormal blood sugar readings.
Adams weighed some 350 pounds, but was able to drop about 60 pounds. “I do believe that helped,” the 65-year-old says.
Price, 71, had a family history of the disease. A retired Air Force captain, he learned a lot about managing the condition through a diabetes awareness class at Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center in Davenport. “Everybody needs to have that class,” he says.
All three now are patients of Dr. Hiba Al-Dabagh, a Davenport endocrinologist who joined Heart of Florida Physician Group in October.
“The treatments of diabetes over the past few years have progressed,” says Dr. Al-Dabagh, who earned her medical bachelor and bachelor of surgery degrees at the University of Jordan School of Medicine in Amman, Jordan. “Now we have several options.”
Diabetes occurs when glucose, the body’s main energy source, becomes too high. Having high levels of glucose, or blood sugar, can contribute to other health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, dental issues, nerve damage and foot problems, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
There are two basic types: Type 1, which customarily occurs in young people, and Type 2, which usually occurs in adults. In Type 1, the pancreas typically stops making insulin, which regulates blood sugar. Type 2 is more likely to strike people 45 years old or older who have had people in their family with it. According to NIDDK, diabetes is more common in African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islanders. Inactivity or high blood pressure may contribute to it.
Florida has more than 2.4 million people with diabetes and more than 5.8 million people with prediabetes, according to estimates in Florida Diabetes Council’s 2017 report. It notes Polk County, along with Gadsden, Hardee, Levy, and Madison counties, had a “statistically higher rate” of diabetes than the rest of the state in 2013.
About 30.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2015, according to the American Diabetes Association. Some 7.2 million of those cases were undiagnosed.
Warning signs include excessive thirst, dry mouth, frequent urination, and fatigue, Dr. Al-Dabagh says. The disease can be treated with medications and insulin. Newer medications and devices like insulin pumps, which can deliver insulin around the clock and adjust the amount based on the patient’s input, have made blood sugar easier to control.
Dr. Al-Dabagh stresses the importance of willpower for diabetic patients. “The diabetes patients need to know, and believe, that they can control it,” she says.
In the case of adult-onset diabetes, the first steps to manage diabetes are diet, exercise, and managing weight, adds Dr. Al-Dabagh, who did Transitional, Internal Medicine and Endocrine Fellowships at Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. “The body is producing insulin,” she explains. “The body is not responding. There is a resistance to it.”
Eventually the body loses its ability to produce insulin. “It’s like a horse. You keep beating it to run, run, run,” she says. “Eventually it will fall.”
She notes the goal of exercise is to challenge the body physically, which is achieved by mixing the types of exercises or increasing the amount of time spent.
Price, who was diagnosed with Type 2, gained some management strategies from the diabetes class which were life changing. After he learned more about carbohydrates and how to consume them appropriately, he was able to better manage the disease. “That information, in conjunction with your doctor if you’re taking insulin, is very important,” he says.
He also learned to consider the amount of carbohydrates his bread contains. But he’s not a perfectionist about his diet. “I, like all the kids I know, have to cheat once in awhile,” he says.
A locksmith, Adams treats Type 2 diabetes with an insulin pen, although he was initially resistant to the idea. “It’s not a big deal to take the medicines,” he says. “I was adamant about not going on the needle. At some level, it’s a little bit easier than taking pills.”
Keeping a regular routine makes it easier to get reliable readings when he tests his blood sugar multiple times during the day.
Adams acknowledges working on his weight is a priority. He’d like to lose maybe another 100 pounds, getting down to below 200 pounds. “Maintaining the weight is probably a big key factor in my life,” he opines.
He plans on buying some adult tricycles and riding with his wife Carolyn around the neighborhood.
For Pelton, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, his early symptoms included Restless Leg Syndrome, tiredness, sweating, and frequent urination. Getting a Type 1 diagnosis at age 69 was unusual; he was told it may have been caused by a viral infection.
He’s been on an insulin pump for about five years now. “I still have to test my blood about four to seven times a day by finger sticks. It helps me keep track of it better,” he says. “It’s like an artificial pancreas, sort of.”
Now he also uses a glucose monitor, which helps him keep closer tabs on sugar levels. “It changes every five minutes so I know if I’m getting into trouble or not,” he explains.
While he can usually feel it when the sugar goes low in the daytime, the monitor sounds an alarm, which is particularly helpful at night. “She [his wife Dotty] can wake me up. That gives us peace of mind,” says Pelton, who previously required the help of paramedics during the night on more than one occasion.
On his journey, he’s learned a lot of vegetables and fruits are helpful. “Be careful of some fruit because of all the sugar,” he adds. “I carry with me glucose tablets everywhere. That’s what I have all the time in case I do go low.”
Despite it all, he continues to play pickleball. “I think exercise has helped me a lot,” he says. “If I’m not playing pickleball, I’m doing a lot of walking.”

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