When Marsha Heumann was diagnosed with diabetes about seven years ago she wasn’t
“I had been pre-diabetic for a long time,” said Heumann, now 57. “But I kept doing what I was doing. I was in denial.”
“Even after I was diagnosed with diabetes, I put it on the back burner,” Heumann said, partly because she really didn’t know that much about the disease.
FAMILY HISTORIES COUNT.
“I have a family history, but never thought it was going to happen to me.”
Heumann’s brother and sister also have diabetes, and were diagnosed around the same time she was.
Now, after learning more about diabetes and its health risks from her doctor, Aunita Hill, MD, MPH, internal medicine physician at Missouri Baptist Outpatient Center-Sunset Hills, Heumann has become proactive. It has been a gradual process. Her personal goal is to keep her blood sugar in control and never need insulin.
Heumann was surprisingly helped by “getting off diet soda.”
“The artificial sweeteners made me crave other things that were sweet. So, diet soda often meant a cupcake, too.”
Cutting out those calories helped Heumann lose some 40 pounds. She also walks about three miles, five days a week, eats healthier, and tries to keep anxiety and stress at bay.
“The endorphins from exercise help and I feel good about myself,” she said. “I am now a big water drinker and I try not to let my weight slide more than five pounds.”
“Diabetes is manageable, as I learned from Dr. Hill, but it is up to you to take charge.”
Heumann, who sees Dr. Hill every three months said, “She renews my drive each time. Dr. Hill is very compassionate and down-to-earth. She knows it’s an everyday struggle.”
Dr. Hill understands perhaps more than her patients realize. Her family history includes diabetes.
Her mother died from complications due to diabetes, and her father and brother both have the disease. And, she knows she and her daughter could be at risk someday, too – unless they take steps now to prevent or postpone it.
For Dr. Hill, healthy meals and exercise are a priority. She walks 20-30 minutes a day in her neighborhood, and often walks her daughter to school.
“I think it’s important for me to teach my six-year-old good health habits,” she said.
As a physician, Dr. Hill knows the relationship of diabetes to other health problems, especially heart disease:
- Diabetics are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than those without the disease.
- Sixty-five percent of diabetics die from heart disease or stroke.
- Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of early death for those with diabetes.
The Importance of Prevention and Control.
“Annual physicals are very important,” said Dr. Hill. “Many times, if we see pre-diabetes in a patient, we can help them take steps to prevent diabetes.”
In people with pre-diabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Adopting healthier habits can delay or prevent diabetes and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
“Someone who is pre-diabetic may be overweight or obese. We can start them on a weight loss program, and help them manage dietary changes and exercise,” she said. “We like to prevent diabetes as long as possible.”
“Many who are diagnosed later in life with diabetes are so accustomed to eating in certain ways. They need to be reeducated about foods. It’s not always easy.”
She explained that behaviors need to change, such as substituting whole wheat bread and brown rice for “white,” and drinking fruit juices without added sugar.
Controlling YOUR Risk Factors.
“If a diabetic is on insulin, it does not fix the underlying problem,” said Dr. Hill. “They still need to do their ‘homework.’”
For everyone, especially diabetics:
- reach and stay at a healthy weight
- get 30-60 minutes of physical activity, such as walking, most days of the week
- eat a healthy diet reducing saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium and sugars, and increasing fiber and whole grains, fruits and vegetables
- quit smoking
- take medications as directed.
“My mother had almost every complication one can get from diabetes before she passed away. She lost her eyesight, had an infection in her toe, which ultimately led to an amputation, and had triple bypass heart surgery,” Dr. Hill sighed.
Teaching as a Physician.
As a young girl, Dr. Hill believed she would become a teacher or doctor.
“I was a substitute teacher for one year at an elementary school. That helped me decide that was not what I wanted to do long-term. I knew medicine was what I really was supposed to do,” she said.
“I enjoy being able to teach people how to take control of their health or their disease and help them be pro-active.”
Aunita Hill, MD, MPH, is board-certified in internal medicine, on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, and a member of BJC Medical Group. She received her medical degree from Finch University of Health Sciences in Chicago and completed her internship and residency at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois.