Diabetes and heart disease

James Decker, 51, jokes that he “won the big grand prize” when he learned he had both diabetes and heart disease. But thanks to prompt and attentive care from Indiana Regional Medical Center, Decker is doing amazingly well.

“I was diagnosed with diabetes in January of 2018,” Decker says. “In diabetic information classes, we talked about the disease, how to manage it, how to support each other, how it affects your body and how to manage your life.”

The class met with a nutritionist and learned the ins and outs of eating while diabetic. It's helped Decker to know what kinds of food to eat and how much.

Success stories like his make IRMC's certified diabetes educators like Mary Beth Kennedy smile.

“In our bodies, we need insulin to get glucose from the blood stream to where we need it to fuel our body,” Kennedy says. “When you have higher levels of glucose in the blood, that causes damage to the inside of the blood vessels.

“The body wants to repair the damage and tries to fill the rough spots in the vessels with cholesterol and fat to ‘fix’ the blood vessel. That causes a narrowing, so you’re not getting enough blood to the organs, including the heart.”

A person with diabetes is four times more likely to develop heart problems than a person without. Their risk of heart attack is the same as someone who’s already had a heart attack.

“Bottom line, when you’re treating diabetes, you look for heart disease,” Kennedy says. “When you’re treating heart disease, you look for diabetes.”

Treatment for both is similar in regard to weight loss, lifestyle changes, lowering blood pressure and quitting smoking.

Decker, a probation officer who lives in Indiana County, has lost 85 pounds in 12 months. He’s “still a big guy” at 295, but his A1C, which indicates the percent of glucose (blood sugar) that clings to red blood cells, has plunged. It was 9.0 in January 2018 and is now 5.1, well below the level considered pre-diabetic. He’s done that with Metformin, exercise and diet.

“You can eat anything you want, basically, but you have to watch if it’s a protein, a fat, a carb,” Decker says. “You can only have so much of each every day.”

Diabetes runs in his family, so the diagnosis didn’t floor him. Chest pain led to his first stent 14 years ago, and a second stent a year ago. Now, smarter eating habits help. A good balance is needed of fats, proteins and carbs. With increased activity, you increase the healthy cholesterol.

This journey is echoed in Glenn Henry, 62, of Blairsville. He also was diagnosed with diabetes and heart disease. He says he has learned about eating a healthier diet in diabetes classes at IRMC. And he learned to enjoy the 45-minute cardiac rehab classes three times per week, as well.

“I’m doing okay,” says Henry, a part-time janitor. “I’m feeling better these days.”

The former truck driver with nearly 3 million miles driven had to leave his job after his heart attack. But now he no longer gets winded, for example, and is able to work a physically demanding job.

Henry had one stent installed after a heart attack in 2015 and two more in 2017 when blockage was found.

“So far, so good,” he says.

“The lifestyle changes, eating healthy, exercising, quitting smoking, if you think about it, those are things everybody should be doing whether they have diabetes, heart disease or anything,” Kennedy says. “If you are doing those things, you are doing the best you can for yourself. And the earlier you start doing those things, the better."

This article was originally published in Community Health for Indiana Regional Medical Center.