Mother learns to control diabetes; event aims to raise awareness

IF YOU GO:

• WHAT: Stop Diabetes Day

• WHERE: Pine Street Community Center, 803 Pine St., in Victoria

• WHEN: 8 a.m.-noon Saturday

• WHY: To educate people about diabetes, diabetic care and prevention

Before Rebecca Priest learned she had diabetes, her children had it.

Her children -- ages 12 and 24 -- were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during a routine doctor visit. Type 1 diabetes is common in children and adults.

Priest, however, didn't visit a doctor to have her own blood sugar checked.

But four years ago, when she visited the doctor, Priest learned she had Type 2 diabetes, in which the body does not produce enough insulin. Diabetes comes from high blood sugar levels.

"I knew I can control it," Priest, 53, said. "It's just a matter of being healthy."

Today, Priest, who is a registered nurse, takes medication, but her risks from not knowing she had diabetes could have been worse.

As it does in Texas, the disease remains prevalent in Victoria.

Almost 2 million people in Texas are diabetic, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In Victoria, 11,000 adults and children have diabetes, according to Victoria County statistics.

That hits home for John Griffin, immediate past chairman of the board of the American Diabetes Association. Griffin estimates that in Victoria, about one in three people don't even know they have diabetes.

Since being diagnosed a diabetic in 1997, Griffin has worked continuously to make sure people are aware of diabetes.

"We're trying to get as many people as we can to get educated and tested," Griffin said. "I want people to understand that diabetes is a serious epidemic."

To educate residents, Griffin, along with Joy Holladay, will conduct the second annual Stop Diabetes Day event Saturday. The event will feature health screenings and allow people to learn about diabetic care.

"The key is to screen people so that we can determine who has a high risk to have diabetes," said Holladay. Working as a family nurse practitioner, Holladay interacts with patients who have high levels of blood sugar.

"Diabetes is definitely a manageable disease," Holladay said. "People can live a well-controlled life if it is caught early."

When Priest learned about having Type 2 diabetes, she said she tried to control her blood sugar by using pills and even fasting. She then stopped when she learned about another way to help her stay healthy. She carries a pocket-sized machine that tests her blood sugar and a machine that inserts insulin in her body when needed.

"I have been fine," said Priest. "I've never been sick at work."

Priest watches what she eats and understands her limitations on food. She understands that having diabetes is common in her family history, but some ethnicities don't know it's common at all.

Among ethnic groups in Texas, African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to have diabetes than whites. Research explains it is more prevalent in these two groups because of the different types of cuisine they eat.

"It's a huge health problem," said Philipp Scherer, a professor of internal medicine and a researcher of diabetes at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "It's one of those unreserved health problems."

While there is no common cure for diabetes, Scherer said daily activities such as exercising and eating less, can help confront future problems.

In Griffin's case, he said the first step to being healthy is for a person to know whether they are diabetic.

"We know that people who manage diabetes are able to get care," Griffin said. "Those are people we want to touch."