Life is sweeter after diabetes reversal
After struggling with type 2 diabetes for more than a decade, Irene Mello finally feels like she has her life back.
The 62-year-old was one of the first Argus members to take part in the diabetes reversal programme offered by Premier Health and Wellness Centre and the Bermuda Diabetes Association.
With her sugar levels now under control and having completely changed her lifestyle, the Warwick resident is well on the way to reversing her disease and no longer needs any of her medications.
“I don’t feel 62 anymore, so it’s very exciting,” Ms Mello told The Royal Gazette. “When you have diabetes you think you know it all but believe me, you do not.”
“You have to face your disease and I think what this programme has done for me, for the first time, I have faced my disease,” she added.
“I am not fearful of my disease like I was because I feel like I am in control now, where I never felt like that before and I think that’s the difference.
“The programme has really helped me to realise that I can do this. I just feel very, very grateful because I feel I have my life back.”
When Ms Mello went to her doctors about 15 years ago, she had been feeling unwell for some time. She thought she was having a heart attack — doctors diagnosed type 2 diabetes instead.
She made an effort to watch her diet, to get her eyes checked and regularly did A1C blood tests to determine her average glucose levels.
But she didn’t check her own sugar levels often because the test “would tell me that I failed”, and she would still wake up with blurry vision and always felt lethargic.
After suffering two brain bleeds as the result of a bad bike accident in December last year, she found it even more difficult to cope with the condition.
“I was acting like I didn’t have diabetes — I couldn’t care,” she said. “I was just a mess.”
When she ran into Debbie Jones, of the Bermuda Diabetes Association, and told her she how awful she felt, Ms Jones asked her to go see the doctors at Premier Health.
They told her she was eligible for the new programme, which started that same evening.
“I went to the meeting not knowing what I was going to hear — I went on Debbie’s recommendation and it was the best thing I have ever done. For the first time in 15 years a lightbulb went off. All of a sudden I started to connect with my disease.”
The group met once a week for six weeks to cover the basics of diabetes and Ms Mello said “the dots started connecting”.
One of the main messages she took away was that “diabetes does not cause you to lose your limbs, the lack of discipline causes you to lose your limbs”.
She had always feared this might happen to her and she had begun to notice tingling in her feet that she was too scared to mention. But after that meeting, she made an appointment with her doctor.
“I was really proud of myself because I was being brave,” she said. “Once you face a fear, it’s a lot easier.”
As the weeks progressed, Ms Mello made more and more changes. She switched to a high protein diet and slowly cut out carbohydrates, leading to a big improvement in her sugar levels. “It took six to eight weeks before I stopped craving carbs. But I feel so much better. I feel like I have energy, I want to do things.
She added: “When you don’t eat all the sugar, your food comes alive. I eat more vegetables than I’ve ever eaten in my life and I actually now can honestly say that I enjoy them.”
And whereas she used to crave snacks, she said: “Now I don’t even think of anything else because I’m full.”
She also started exercising and now checks her blood sugar six times a day. And she went from taking eight or nine pills a day, to none.
“When we finished the sixth week, I was off all my medications. This is how you can live and I feel like as a 62-year-old Bermudian woman that I’ve got a second chance.”
As part of the year-long programme, the participants took the six-week course followed by individual appointments. Last week, they met for the first lifestyle follow-up session.
Sara McKittrick, diabetes educator with the Bermuda Diabetes Association, said all participants did “phenomenally”.
“Everybody has succeeded in their own different way, different parameters.”
According to Ms McKittrick, the programme is successful because it encourages people to feel full and satisfied.
“It’s not a restrictive approach as much as it’s ‘eat more good-quality food’,” she explained. “The framework is driven around what you need in terms of support.
“This is not an easy journey but it is remarkable in the transformations that we have seen because through the way that the programme is delivered, they get the opportunity to believe it themselves.
“The rewards and the benefits are huge and it’s entirely achievable. Taking charge of it makes all the difference.” And while it is not new advice, she said it is “delivered in a package that gives people hope, and it gives them their health and their life back”.
The Argus Group announced last month that it had partnered with diabetes specialist David Cavan and Stanley James, of Premier Health, as well as the Bermuda Diabetes Association to provide the programme to its clients for free.
“So far, three cohorts have taken part, with more planned.
“It’s an ongoing programme,” said Karima Stevens, nurse case manager for Argus’s population health programme.
“We’re really pleased to be the first insurance company to partner with Premier Health and Wellness to offer this to our members.
“Our members are encouraged to contact the Premier Health and Wellness Centre and volunteer for the programme.”
A toasted scone or an English muffin with eggs and bacon and a small glass of orange juice.
Or, a bran muffin with a small glass of orange juice.
Salad with protein and one or two cookies.
Or, a small sandwich with fries and one or two cookies.
Diet soda with lunch.
Another cookie or a piece of fruit.
Meat with rice or baked potato or pasta and vegetables, although the latter were mainly for her family.
Two omelette cups with ham and cheese or tomato and bacon.
Plain chicken and salad with balsamic vinegar, and a small apple or orange.
A little bit of cheese or fruit, if she feels like she needs a snack.
Chicken, broccoli, carrots and salad, sautéed vegetables.
Drinks: Tea and water