Type 2 diabetes can be self-managed

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Bryan Helm of Ocean City has lost 65 pounds and feels “better than ever” since being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and adjusting his lifestyle. Helm attended classes at AtlantiCare’s Joslin Diabetes Center in Egg Harbor Township. Photo submitted

Lifestyle changes can stave off severe complications

Just more than a year ago, Bryan Helm, 45, of Ocean City was one of an estimated 7 million Americans who are unaware that they have Type 2 diabetes. That all changed when the symptoms “came out of nowhere,” said Helm, who works as port captain for the Cape May Lewes Ferry.

Helm experienced severe cotton mouth –  “I couldn’t drink enough water,” he said – as well as frequent urination, fatigue and high blood pressure. Other signs of the disease are increased hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, slow-healing sores and frequent infections.


With a family history of Type 2 diabetes, Helm said he always had it in the back of his head that he could get the disease. Although his last physical had had been routine, with fasting blood sugar levels an acceptable 90 milligrams per deciliter, when he went to the doctor again his blood glucose had soared to 480 – in the danger zone.

Helm became one of 19 million Americans diagnosed with the fast-growing chronic disease, which can lead to a host of serious health consequences, including heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, nervous system damage, high blood pressure, and in extreme cases, blindness and amputation.

According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2007 diabetes was listed as an underlying cause or contributing factor on more than 231,000 death certificates in the United States.

“It was shocking” to hear the diagnosis, said Helm, a married father of two. “I guess with anything like that you’re kind of devastated by it.”

Determined to get the disease under control, he attended a series of classes led by Meaghan Kim, diabetes educator at AtlantiCare’s Joslin Diabetes Center in Egg Harbor Township.

“What she told me stuck in my mind for the last 13 months,” said Helm. “She said, ‘You can control diabetes; it does not have to control you.’ That empowered me to say, ‘I can do this. I have to make some drastic lifestyle changes.’”

Helm adhered to what are called the four aspects of control: medication, blood-sugar monitoring, diet and exercise. Today, he is down to 160 pounds from a high of 225.

He said he has become a running fanatic, logging up to seven miles, four to five times a week. His blood pressure is “beautiful,” he said, and he is off blood pressure medication altogether.

“He’s actually done phenomenally,” said Kim. “He put 150 percent into improving his outcome.”

When Helm first came to the center, his A1c test, which checks the level of hemoglobin in the blood, was 13.6.

“In the diabetes world, that’s off the charts,” Kim said. “In his last visit in the group class, he had an A1c of 5.7 – he dropped more than half in four months. We did cartwheels in the office and celebrated his success.”

Diabetes is on the rise in the United States, due in part to rising obesity levels and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, along with earlier detection.

“It’s a sign of the times,” said Kim. “We’re less active as a community. We have a lot of kids with households with two working parents, so there’s a lot of fast food and processed food. Unfortunately they’re cutting the physical activity in the school system. In high school and grammar school I used to have gym every day. My kids have it once a week.”

While early diagnosis and better treatments are beneficial, “the real work to be done is around identifying the risks and being more proactive in prevention,” Kim said.

The risk factors, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

Heredity. A family history of diabetes.

Weight or obesity, particularly if the weight is stored primarily in the abdomen.

Inactivity. Physical activity helps control the weight, uses glucose as energy and makes the cells more receptive to insulin.

Race. Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than whites.

Age. The risk of Type 2 diabetes increases after age 45. But Type 2 diabetes is also increasing dramatically among children, adolescents and younger adults.

Type 2 diabetes has no symptoms in its earliest stages, so those with the risk factors should be tested, Kim said. The lucky ones, like Helm, can successfully manage their disease and avoid the more dire complications.

“The goal with diabetes self-management is not just to feel better, but to stay better,” Kim said. “Bryan is an example of someone who won’t have serious complications because he is successfully self-managing. But we know the consequences and complications. It is inevitable when diabetes in uncontrolled and mismanaged. It is very serious.”

While he will always have to cope with diabetes, Helm said he feels better than ever thanks to the positive changes he has made.

“This has really turned my life around,” he said.



Tags: Bryan Helm, Type 2 diabetes, AtlantiCare,
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