Larry Bell is a diabetic, one who had no intention of taking care of himself. It wasn’t really deliberate, it was just, he said, an inconvenience to follow doctor’s instructions to exercise and check his blood sugar on a daily basis.
Once just a borderline diabetic, two years ago, Bell became insulin-dependent, with doctors constantly telling him if he didn’t change his lifestyle, eventually the diabetes would, and not for the better.
James Marshburn watched his friend and next-door neighbor Gene Barefoot suffer with diabetes, a disease impacting his own life. He knew how serious it had been for Barefoot, who first lost a leg and eventually his life, and Marshburn realized, with some serious discussion with his doctor, that he, too, would be on an uphill battle if he didn’t get the disease under control.
He’d been on a pill to control his diabetes for five years, but wasn’t really doing anything to change the habits that only added fuel to the diabetic fire. Like Bell, Marshburn said, it wasn’t a deliberate decision not to take care of himself, but rather an inconvenience.
Ray Pate’ wasn’t on insulin, but it was the likely next step, his doctor had told him, at once giving him eye-opening alternatives: change his lifestyle and live 20 more years or keep on as he was and reduce his likely lifespan by 15 years.
Like Bell and Marshburn, Pate thought the idea of trying to lose weight, eat healthy and keep a daily check on his blood sugar was a nuisance he really didn’t want to bother with, but physician Dr. Arthur Apolinario had opened his eyes just enough for him to see a future that didn’t look all that bright without some drastic changes.
Enter The Diabetes Bus Initiative, a non-profit program designed to improve access to diabetes self-management classes that would offer healthy outcomes.
The program was offered through Sampson Regional Medical Center as a complement to other agency initiatives to reduce the growing impact of diabetes on Sampson families.
For Bell, Marshburn and Pate, it was life-changing.
“I was a mess,” Bell said. “I simply wasn’t interested in doing the things that the doctors suggested. Walking two miles, losing weight, checking my blood sugar; it was all more than I thought was necessary somehow. Boy was I wrong.”
Suggested by Dr. Apolinario and encouraged by his wife, Carrie, a diabetic herself, Bell decided to join the Diabetes Bus Initiative. “I didn’t want to,” Bell admitted, “but Carrie persuaded me to take part.” And she decided to take part herself, an added incentive for the reluctant and unconvinced husband.
“It only took a short time before I realized it was the right thing to do. I found myself enjoying it and, what’s more, I found I was taking better care of myself,” Bell admitted.
Having stopped taking her own medication correctly, Carrie Bell knew there were issues that needed to be resolved for her own health, so joining her husband would be a two-fold benefit — encouraging him and helping herself.
“When Larrry said it changed his life, he wasn’t kidding. It did,” Mrs. Bell stressed. “And it changed mine. I came off my diabetes medicine, I’ve lost some weight, I’m watching what I eat and, what’s more, I’m seeing Larry taking better care of himself.”
That life-changing experience reached Marshburn, too, who, at the suggestion of his doctor, also decided to become a bus initiative participant.
“It was really eye-opening,” he said. “Our instructor was so encouraging and so enlightening, it made you understand what taking care of yourself meant to your life, and what not taking care of yourself meant as well.”
Pate took part in the Diabetes Bus because he chose Apolinario’s alternative for an extended life over the far less appealing option.
“I wasn’t crazy about it. You see, Dr. A had told me if I’d just listen to him, lose some weight, eat better, those kinds of things, there was a possibility I wouldn’t have to go on insulin. But me, I am head strong. I fumbled around and didn’t do anything. I just didn’t understand the impact of diabetes.”
Eventually he agreed to participate in the diabetes classes. It was a move, he said, that made tremendous difference in his life.
“I’m not going to say this was easy. I quit smoking 15 years ago. Doing this was that hard or harder. It was tough, but the classes made the difference, it taught me so much,” Pate stressed.
With the Diabetes Bus Initiative, the four were offered an opportunity to learn what diabetes is and how it impacts the body; they were taught practical diabetes skills and offered lessons in how to set and attain lifestyle goals.
“Our instructor was wonderful,” Bell said. “She challenged us to go home, exercise and see what it did to our sugar levels. Boy was that an eye-opening experience.”
It taught the group many things, including that exercise brought down those all-important numbers.
“I was taking charge of my health and I really didn’t even realize it, at first. These classes just made a believer out of me. Once I tried something and saw the impact it had, I’d try something else. Now I’m walking about 20 minutes a day and I’m keeping an eye on what I eat. Oh, yeah, I’m also checking my blood sugar,” Bell said.
Wife Carrie said she now feels better about her husband and, at the same time, her own health.
“We both feel better, physically speaking, and, really, mentally,” Mrs. Bell said.
Marshburn and Pate have similar stories. The classes opened their eyes to ways they could help themselves and provided the encouragement they needed to forge ahead, meeting the challenges head on.
“Those diabetes classes meant a lot to me,” Marshburn attested. “I can tell a lot of change … for the better.”
Pate agreed. “These classes made me a believer, I can tell you that. It also gave me the confidence to handle my diabetes in the proper way, to take care of myself. I had a lot of fear of the unknown, but not any more.”
All four said they, like so many Sampson County residents who are either border-line diabetic or suffering from the full-blown disease, had refused to take their health issues seriously, something they stress they’ll never do again.
“Like so many others, I was never crazy about going to the doctor and I sure didn’t want them telling me what to do. But now, after these classes, I’ve learned that I was just wrong and I was hurting myself every day.
“What I know now is that I don’t want to go back to feeling like I once did,” Bell attested.
Pate agrees. “One of the great things about these classes is that it teaches you that you are not alone, that there are others who think like you do.” He points to the others in the room. “All these folks were like me, they weren’t taking this seriously, but boy did those classes change our thoughts.”
“They sure did,” Marshburn interjected. “I’ve made some major changes in my lifestyle and I’m glad I did. I really feel like I’ve added years to my life.”
They’ve learned to exercise, read labels, check their blood sugar levels and pay attention to the things their bodies tell them, and to seek out support from those with similar health issues.
“Staying in touch with those in the class has been important,” Pate said. “Having some day-to-day motivation is always good because you know it’s not going to be easy. At the same time, you know you can do it.”
The Bells agreed. “I hated to start this program,” Bell said, “then I dreaded it when it was over.”
Amber Cava, director of marketing and community relations at Sampson Regional, said the diabetes initiative was one of many programs the hospital and other agencies offer to those with diabetes, all in an effort to help bring them understanding and life-changing experiences.
In addition to the Bus Initiative, the hospital, Cava said, offers Sugar Buddies, a diabetes support group that she suggested the four think about attending when it starts up again in the fall.
“The hospital is dedicated to providing programs that support healthy living,” Cava stressed. “Others from the Diabetes Bus Initiative are already seeing progress that they, like these patients, attribute to their participation in this program. I think it has really changed the way they manage their diabetes.”
It certainly, Pate said, had changed his.
“I would recommend this class to anyone with diabetes. You may not think you need the class, the support, the lessons, but you do.”
Bell nodded in agreement. “I’m the perfect example. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and then I found out what I was doing to myself and, bam! I did an about-face. It was all because of this program. Sure I’d recommend it to others. It really will change your life.”