Diabetes Month

#DiabetesOvercomers: Karen Storm, Gert Marais, Pieter van Wyk and Dr Ken Kwaku

About 4.6 million South Africans have diabetes1a and to raise awareness of this common, serious, and chronic condition, to help people get diagnosed and manage it, the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim spoke to four people who have been living with diabetes for many years.

Karen (60), Gert (71), Pieter (64) and Ken (76) have their own physiological stories about when and how they were diagnosed with diabetes, what medical side-effects they encountered and the way they coped with these.

However, they share a similar mindset which has kept them motivated to live their best lives and to succeed professionally and personally: rather than its victims and more than survivors, they are #DiabetesOvercomers.

Diabetes is a major health issue that has reached alarming levels: today, nearly half a billion people

are living with diabetes worldwide.1b

Diabetes occurs when there are raised levels of glucose in a person’s blood because their body cannot produce any or enough of the hormone insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.1c

If left unchecked over the long term, insulin deficit and raised blood sugar cause damage to different organs. In turn, it leads to disabling and life-threatening health complications such as cardiovascular diseases, nerve and kidney damage and eye disease that can result in blindness. However, if the diabetes is properly managed, then these complications can be prevented, delayed, and sometimes reversed. 1d

John Fagan, General Manager and Head of Human Pharma, at Boehringer Ingelheim South Africa says: “Globally, as healthcare role players we come together in November to give our full attention to diabetes – and this is a very important and valuable time to focus on the latest developments in epidemiology and science.

Yet millions of South Africans live with diabetes every day. Their daily reality – how they feel and what happens to their blood sugar levels – depends on many factors including what they eat, whether they are physically active, do they smoke. And as we hear from Ken, Karen, Pieter and Gert, a strong positive attitude can make all the difference.”

The four people shared their nearly lifelong diabetes journey during webinars hosted this month (November). They want to encourage others living with diabetes, their families, healthcare professionals and health partners with a message that diabetes is not a death sentence.

They put down their good health and overall wellness to a few basics: being informed about their condition which allows for smart choices about nutrition suited to what the daily testing indicates are their blood sugar levels; taking the prescribed medication; being alert to and dealing timeously with possible health complications; regular physical exercise; staying adaptable to how they feel; and enjoying personal and professional relationships, pursuits, and hobbies.

“The honest accounts we hear from our #DiabetesOvercomers also reflect the challenges that they have encountered and how they tackled them. These are powerful lessons that millions of other patients struggling with such complexities can follow to stay healthy and to adopt a similar mental approach that will help them manage their diabetes,” Fagan added.

Gert was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes which occurs in 90% of patients with diabetes1e when he was in his early 20s and at the time, the doctors estimate he would have another 10 more years to live. When he was 45, Gert started to develop complications especially with his eyes which the specialist could not laser anymore and thought his vision would disappear in a couple of years. With solid nutrition, Gert reversed loss of vision as well as the loss of feeling in legs which crept up after playing tennis (large sensory neuropathy). “I decided I will have a normal life. That’s been the way.”

Pieter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes which occurs in 5-15%1f of patients with diabetes. He says this was not an issue in the family and that he has enjoyed life the same as others. “I was always with an injection and a sweety in my pocket.” Few years back, without the typical warning signs like chest pain, Peter was diagnosed with coronary heart disease and needed to have stents inserted in his arteries. He now knows not to ignore any unusual symptoms. A healthy lifestyle has served him in good stead. “I have lost weight and I feel like a teenager again.”

Ken, who is from Ghana, went for a check-up and was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes after realising he was drinking four-five litres of water every night and going often to the bathroom. He is a great believer in knowledge – understanding diabetes has enabled him to decide to stay disciplined about losing weight, exercising and eating a predominantly plant-based diet. “I never used to read information on food packages. Now I do it religiously.”

Karen was struggling with the emotional journey that being diabetic entailed and the fatigue, thirst and inability to control the weight gain. She acknowledges that it was not easy to accept being a diabetic. “Discipline is difficult, it is a choice you have to make.”

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