New diabetic support group forming
A Fairfield man is organizing a support group for adults with diabetes.
Bob Byrnes has had Type I diabetes for the past 21 years. Having Type I diabetes requires him to inject himself with insulin four to five times a day because his pancreas doesn’t produce enough of it.
Byrnes said he wants to start a support group because he knows from first-hand experience how difficult it is to face diabetes alone.
“I’m always living with it myself, and I’m tired of doing that,” he said. “The group’s members would support each other through hard times, and talk about managing it with work, kids and a spouse.”
The American Diabetes Association says 25.8 million people in America, 8.3 percent of the population, have diabetes. Of those, 7 million people are unaware they have it since they are undiagnosed.
About one in 400 children under the age of 20 has diabetes, but the percentages are much higher for adults. Twelve percent of men and 11 percent of women 20 years old and older have diabetes. It affects 27 percent of people 65 and older.
Complications from diabetes include heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and amputations. The American Diabetes Association states diabetics are two to four times more likely to suffer from heart disease than adults without diabetes.
Dealing with diabetes is no easy task. Byrnes is in good physical condition, but he must remain vigilant about his blood sugar level. For example, he carries juice or candy with him at all times so he can raise his blood sugar level if it dips too low.
“When you get a low blood sugar level, it’s pretty scary,” he said. “People think you’re drunk. Police once pulled me over and I told them I was diabetic. I drank a Coke and in 20 minutes I was back to normal.”
According to ABC News, a non-diabetic person has a blood sugar level of 70 to 100 milligrams per deciliter. When the person eats, his blood sugar could rise to 135 or 140, but his pancreas produces insulin that converts the sugar, starches and other food into energy. Byrnes’s pancreas doesn’t secrete enough insulin, so he has to inject it himself with a needle.
However, too much insulin causes its own problems such as profuse sweating and irritability. Byrnes said people get angry with him when he experiences these side effects even though they’re beyond his control.
Byrnes is 54 and has been living with Type I diabetes since he was 33. He found out he had the disease when he lost considerable weight and felt very sluggish. An endocrinologist, who specializes in glands, informed him he had Type I diabetes.
Type II diabetics do not need to inject themselves with insulin. They can regulate their diabetes through diet and oral medication. Diet and medication are not enough for Type I diabetics such as Byrnes.
Byrnes would like the diabetes support group to meet weekly. He is in the process of finding a meeting space, which could be in the Fairfield Friends Church.
In a recent television interview, actor Tom Hanks acknowledged he has Type II diabetes. In the interview, he said he felt healthy and remarked it was the Type I diabetics who were in trouble. Byrnes took umbrage with that characterization of Type I diabetics.
“He shouldn’t have said that, because we’re not in trouble,” Byrnes said. “You can live a long life, but if you mismanage it, you’ll die.”
Byrnes said mismanagement can lead to amputations and retinal damage. Numbness in the extremities is a common feeling for diabetics, but Byrnes said he doesn’t feel numbness in his body. He does have incidents, no more than once a month, in which his blood sugar gets low and it affects his behavior.
The American Diabetes Association’s website indicates 5 percent of diabetics have Type I diabetes.
A number of misconceptions surround diabetes, Byrnes said. He said people assume the disease can be controlled by limiting sugar intake, when it’s really a matter of controlling complex carbohydrates. For instance, potatoes and pretzels have almost no sugar but Byrnes said they affect him just as if they were solid sugar.
The American Diabetes Association says developing Type II diabetes is more complicated than simply eating too much sugar. However, it does recommend limiting portion sizes as a means of reducing the chance of developing Type II diabetes. It also recommends limiting the consumption of sugary drinks such as soda pop, fruit punch, energy drinks and sweetened tea.
A person who loses weight despite eating more food may be suffering from Type I diabetes, according to the ADA. Tingling, pain or numbness in the hands and feet are symptomatic of Type II diabetes. Other symptoms of diabetes include blurry vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, frequent urination and extreme feelings of hunger and thirst.
Byrnes doesn’t know how many people in the area have diabetes, but he is excited about connecting with them. He can be contacted at 651-338-3061 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marty Chandler, a registered nurse at the Jefferson County Health Center who does cardiac rehabilitation and diabetes education, runs a diabetes workshop once a month at the health center. It normally meets from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is usually on a Tuesday or a Thursday.
The workshop and the lunch are free. Participants learn about medications, exercise and the short-term as well as long-term complications of the disease. The health center also provides free monthly blood sugar and blood pressure tests.