Sarah

When Sarah was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after losing her husband to heart complications from the same condition, she vowed to fight back.

Although many people travel for rest and relaxation, Sarah Bryant prefers a bit more adventure.

During a recent visit to Arizona, she ran a 5K obstacle course, which required her to climb over a wall just to get to the starting line. And while vacationing in Bali, she hiked up the side of a volcano. Both were experiences the Sarah from six years ago wouldn’t have imagined possible.

The excursions were organized by a widow’s group Sarah joined after her husband’s death in 2014.

“It’s helped me to be with people who totally understand what I’m going through,” she said.

Sarah had only been married three years when her husband had a stroke and became wheelchair bound—a result of his uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. He ultimately passed from heart issues, which is the leading cause of death for people with type 2 diabetes.

Since her mother and brother also had type 2 diabetes, Sarah was intimately familiar with the disease when she was diagnosed in 2019, after suffering severe fatigue that no amount of sleep would alleviate. While the news was like a punch in the gut, she quickly rebounded.

“I knew I was going to beat this,’” she said. “It was time to take action.”

Vowing to change her lifestyle before turning to medication, Sarah enrolled in a diabetes education class, but quickly determined the coordinator’s recommendations didn’t go far enough for her. Sarah did her own research and put together a plan.

After trying a low-carb keto diet, she adopted a whole-food, plant-based, no-oil way of eating that avoids processed foods. She experiments with whole grains like farro and protein-rich legumes, such as mung beans. In place of white sugar, she makes her own date paste from scratch.

“She’s a walking billboard of what you can do if you put your mind to it,” co-worker and close friend, Janell Bannister, said. “She shares her knowledge, and I love that about her.”

Exercise also plays a key role. Sarah had already begun strength training with a group, and she became even more focused after her type 2 diabetes diagnosis, walking two to three miles on her non-gym days and boxing on a heavy bag. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, she hops on her treadmill, which has several different programs to keep things interesting. And she jumps on a mini trampoline every morning.

“It gets everything moving and helps you start the day,” she said. “I created a lifestyle for myself that I really enjoy.”

The changes paid off. In the past, Sarah struggled with her weight, gaining and losing the same ten pounds in a seemingly never-ending cycle. Since changing her lifestyle, however, she has lost and kept off 50 pounds in less than a year. As a result, she’s the smallest she’s ever been—and she feels better than ever, too.

Sarah’s blood glucose improved almost immediately, eliminating the need for medication. And her acid reflux, which caused a severe burning sensation in her chest and throat cleared up.

“I feel good when I wake up in the mornings, I don’t get fatigued throughout the day and I seem to have a lot more energy,” she said. “I didn’t realize that I wasn’t feeling great until I started feeling great.”

According to Sarah, her biggest teacher has been her late husband, Joseph, a stark example of what can happen when people don’t take diabetes seriously. Taking care of him, she said, was hard, and she doesn’t want her family and friends to ever be burdened with caring for her.

Those long days working full-time, commuting an hour and a half each way, and caring for her husband were the hardest days of her life, she says. To motivate herself then and now, she references her favorite quote: You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

As for her health progress, Sarah says she’s amazed at herself and proud for sticking with it.

“Diet and exercise are the greatest weapons you have to fight diabetes and there’s a whole arsenal out there.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic quashed Sarah’s plans to visit South Africa this year, she’s making plans to visit Senegal, Africa in 2021.

“We have a habit of putting limits on ourselves,” she said. “We need to push beyond them.”

Annette

Anette L.

An injury to Annette’s eye and her father’s sudden death from a heart attack prompted her to get serious about controlling her type 2 diabetes.

Annette’s life changed dramatically one day over 30 years ago, after her car was T-boned by another vehicle that plowed through a red light.

Thankfully Annette—who was 6 months pregnant at the time—escaped without serious injuries. But the doctor treating her told Annette that she had gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia and c-section during pregnancy. It also increases risk for type 2 diabetes, which can begin immediately following birth or develop later in life. Annette, like her mother and siblings, developed the condition and now lives with type 2 diabetes.

Anette with her sister

For the years that followed, Annette focused on raising her family and her career.

Starting as a government case worker at Mercer County Board of Social Services, Annette moved up through the ranks. She eventually took an executive position overseeing support services for the 500-person agency.

Although she excelled at work, Annette had trouble getting a handle on her health, over-indulging in high-calorie foods and not getting enough exercise.

Even so, she never missed a doctor’s appointment, fighting fear and embarrassment to face the proverbial music, even when she knew her blood sugar was too high.

The periods of elevated blood sugar left their mark. A few years ago, Annette accidentally fell and hit her eye on the edge of her desk at work. A full examination found that diabetes had damaged her retinas in both eyes. With the help of a skilled surgeon and multiple laser surgeries, her sight was preserved but she has limited vision in her left eye.

“I could have gone blind,” she said.

Shaken by her vision and her father’s sudden death from a heart attack, Annette was ready to get healthy. She found a new doctor who understood her experience as an African American woman and gave her culturally relevant health advice. She also began working with a therapist and diabetic coach Nabiliah Ismail.

She increased her water intake and substituted fruit for chocolate and other sugary treats. She ultimately embraced a plant-based diet. And to get fit, she embarked on an intensive four-day per week exercise program that includes long walks, Yoga, Tai chi, pool aquatics and strength training.

Annette with daughters

The changes have made a huge difference in her health and well-being, boosting her energy and, with the help of insulin and medication, lowering her blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Annette is very vibrant, and she has a wonderful outlook in life,” Ismail said. “This chapter in life may be one of her best.”

“My health journey has been a long one. A difficult one. But here’s what I know for sure today: denying diabetes doesn’t make it go away and you’re never too old or too sick to make a change for your heart health and your diabetes,” she said.

Annette’s family and friends had difficulty adjusting to her new lifestyle, but they’ve come around. When she gets together for an evening out with her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters, for example, she drinks water and orders the lowest carbohydrate meal possible, like a salad and a vegetable side.

“I’m sorry that it took me so long to get where I am, but I got here. And even the small changes I’m making after 55 have helped make the difference,” she said.

Annette says that although she’s been surrounded by diabetes her entire life and seen her loved ones suffer from it, it wasn’t easy to own it.

“Diabetes can be frightening. But what I can tell you is that educating yourself and finding help to get to the other side of that fear is a whole lot better than living in it.”

Anthony

Anthony W. pointing

Anthony had long known about a heart condition that caused his heart to race, but the EMS professional was unaware of his type 2 diabetes until the day he nearly died.

For Anthony Wilson there’s nothing quite like seeing the world from his motorcycle.

On weekends, Anthony and his wife, Sheila, will often pick a destination, hop on their bikes and hit the road. They belong to a motorcycle club that does volunteer work, “collecting food, having a toy run, things like that,” Anthony explains. “That’s the most rewarding part.”

Anthony motorcycle

An Emergency Medical Technician for more than 30 years and current operations manager of an ambulance support services division, Anthony has always had a passion for helping others. But one fateful day back in 2012, he was the one who needed urgent help.

That morning, Sheila woke him up and told him he didn’t look so good. He had dark circles under his eyes, and his skin looked gray. Increasingly worried, she insisted on taking him to the hospital.

“Normally I leave before he wakes up, but when I got up for work that day, something told me to get him up,” she said. “It was the grace of God.”

Ironically, Anthony and Sheila had recently decided to get healthy, walking, running and doing weight training at the local gym.

At first, things seemed to be going better than they had hoped, especially for Anthony.

“I was losing a lot more weight than she was, and liked to joke about it, ‘Don’t I look good?'”

Anthony and Sheila

But he wasn’t just slimming down. He was constantly thirsty and wondered why he craved mango juice. And he had to use the bathroom every few minutes — peeing as fast as he could drink it. Not to mention the fatigue. While he continued to work full-time, he’d be asleep for the evening shortly after he made it home.

“Even with my medical background, it never even occurred to me that it could be diabetes,” he said. “I thought it was my metabolism working overtime.”

Finally acknowledging he was sick, Anthony agreed to go to the hospital and began walking down the stairs to the front door. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the ICU.

For years, he had suffered from supraventricular tachycardia, or a fast heart rate, and his heart was pumping at 220 to 230 beats per minute. Adding to the doctor’s concerns, his blood pressure had dropped through the floor and his blood glucose (1098) and A1C (17.3) were off the charts. His organs were failing. Doctors shocked his heart in search of a life-supporting beat. Twice.

“Everything was breaking down,” Anthony said. “Had she not taken me to the hospital when she did, the doctor told my wife I would have been dead in the bed when she got home.”

Anthony stayed in the hospital for a week, with Sheila and their two children – a son, then 20, and a daughter, then 14, by his side. The doctor told Anthony he had type 2 diabetes and would need to take insulin for the rest of his life.

“It shocked me,” he said.

Eager to prove them wrong and take control of both his diabetes and his heart health, Anthony ditched sweet tea in favor of unsweetened, started counting carbs and swapped out red meat for fish and poultry. Although he allowed himself the occasional fast food treat, he ordered a small combo meal instead of a large and selected grilled instead of fried chicken. He and Sheila also exercised more often, riding bikes and taking walks through the neighborhood.

Within months, his A1C was down to 4.9 and his doctor told him he no longer needed insulin. Since then, Anthony has shed another 55 pounds, Sheila has lost 46—both more than earning bragging rights.

“I feel more energy, and when I walk up steps, I’m not out of breath,” he said.

Doctors fitted him with a pacemaker to control abnormal heart rhythms and medication plays a role in his health management plan. In addition to his diabetes meds, he takes a daily pill to control his heart arrhythmia as well as medication to control blood pressure and cholesterol. In total, he takes eight pills in the morning and four at night.

“My heart is something my health care team and I watch closely because of my arrhythmia and because diabetes doubles my risk for heart disease and stroke,” he said. “I wish I could manage it all through a healthy lifestyle, but I know that’s not possible in my case. I’m compliant and never skip medications.”

Anthony's Family

The month after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Anthony and his family, reached out to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) about volunteering and “Team Wilson” has been unstoppable ever since.

As a national ambassador for Know Diabetes by Heart, Anthony adds his voice to the landmark collaboration between ADA and the American Heart Association to educate people like him about the link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease and stroke.

His professional experiences in EMS and personal experience with a diabetes crisis make Anthony well-aware of the dual threats of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Helping one person get tested for diabetes or encouraging one person living with type 2 to take care of their cardiovascular health is his goal.

“Volunteering is a passion now,” he said. “I do this from the heart.”

KDBH Ambassador Brandon Lewis

Dallas filmmaker to chronicle 100-pound weight-loss journey.

After being told by his doctor he was prediabetic, Brandon Lewis kept the news to himself, not even telling his wife, Seckeita. Instead, he took “a hiatus” from his doctor.

“He told me I needed to control my sugar intake, be on a diet and drop some weight,” said Brandon, a Dallas-based actor, comedian and probation officer. “It went in one ear and out the other. I just kept living the life.”

Two years later, in 2015, he finally did go back, but not by choice. He and Seckeita, a film and marketing director, were filming their first project, a movie called “Jerico.” And though Brandon had been ignoring classic symptoms of diabetes — unquenchable thirst, frequent urination — not until he began feeling really sick during the filming did he reluctantly return to the doctor.

“When he said, ‘You have type 2 diabetes,’ it just hit me,” Brandon said. “When he told me I’d have to be on medication for my heart and kidneys, it took everything in me to keep from tearing up.”

The diagnosis wasn’t out of the blue; Brandon had witnessed the link between type 2 diabetes and heart problems. His mother has diabetes-induced congestive heart failure and his grandmother died from the same condition. Their health stories aren’t that uncommon, as at least a third of people with heart failure have diabetes. Several of Brandon’s relatives also have had limbs amputated because of diabetes.

But Brandon, a Know Diabetes by Heart ambassador, is determined to not let this disease get the better of him. One reason? He has a comrade-in-arms in his battle. A courage partner. Someone who will commiserate with him when living with diabetes and managing high blood pressure becomes overwhelming — or kick optimism into him if he loses hope.

Photo of Ambassador Brandon Lewis with his Champion

“I couldn’t do it alone,” Brandon said. “I needed someone to remind me to take my medicine, to hold me accountable when I was too scared to hold myself accountable.”

That person, of course, is Seckeita.

“Over the last year and a half, his diabetes and getting healthier have been something we talk about all the time,” said Seckeita, adding that she’s not merely guiding him on his journey; she’s with him every step of the way working toward her own health goals.

“It takes two people who are trying to do it together to push the other one,” she said. “You have to not give up on it. If you’re the one pushing, you have to keep pushing. Don’t give up and then let both of you end up in the same boat.”

She loves to cook, so she has been perfecting diabetes- and heart-friendly meals, like whole wheat spaghetti with from-scratch tomato sauce. “I think, ‘What’s a healthy way to make the dishes we love?’”

“It’s still hard,” she says. “He still struggles. It’s not a light switch you can turn on. Those cravings never go away. It’s something he’s going to have to make a conscious decision about every day, every single meal.”

When they were dating, they trained for and participated in a 5K together. They’d like to one day do that again. Meanwhile, Seckeita said they seek activities they can do together that’s active and a lot of fun. Even if it’s just an extra walk around the block or taking stairs more often, they know the small choices add up.

“It’s all about us being on one page, one court,” Brandon said.

That especially holds true for a project these filmmakers are working on.

“It’s about obesity and diabetes and is called ‘100,’” Brandon said. “We’ve been working on it for a few years. At the end, I’ll be walking out 100 pounds lighter.”

Adds Seckeita: “We decided that we’re going to be on this journey, and if we put it into a film, maybe we can help people who struggle with what we struggle with every day.”

Living with diabetes can be overwhelming, Brandon said. “You think you’ve taken three steps forward, but you’ve actually taken a couple backward. It feels like, ‘Oh man, I’m treading water here.’ But you have to be patient.”

“It’s important not to beat yourself up,” Seckeita said. “Sometimes you make wrong choices and that will set you back. Make the next meal an opportunity to get it right.”

Know Diabetes by Heart Ambassador, Brandon

After losing her mother, father and younger sister to diabetes and heart disease, Christina knew she had to take control of her health and began to make lifestyle changes. As a Know Diabetes by Heart™ ambassador, Christina shares her “Take 2” moment and inspiration for living with a new purpose in this Type 2: Heart-to-Heart talk.