Luleka Mzuzu – experience is a great teacher

After a year of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, Luleka Mzuzu managed to stop taking insulin and only takes oral tablets. She is now focused on educating and helping her community.


Luleka Mzuzu (39) lives in Kayamandi, Western Cape with her husband and three children.

Exhaustion leads to diagnosis

For two weeks Luleka felt exhausted and was forever thirsty. “I never thought to go to the doctor or check my glucose levels as I thought it was just work related and being tired from commuting to and from work. When the mother of three finally went to the doctor in September 2015, her blood glucose reading was 28 and she was immediately sent to ICU. She was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. “I was immediately put on insulin (insulin glulisine and insulin glargine).”

Luleka was determined to educate herself and take control of her health. She changed her diet and started exercising. “This was a very long and hard journey with many obstacles,” she says.

However, her dedication paid off; in early 2017 Luleka’s treatment changed drastically. She only had to take metformin (oral tablet) once a day.

Ikhaya Diabetes Support Group

When Luleka was diagnosed, she wanted and needed support and diabetes education and she says it was hard to get it. “I had to google and use a private doctor to get info. But most people in our community can’t access Google or make use of private doctors and dietitians due to affordability. So, I thought of starting a group to educate, support and help other community members to manage their diabetes.”

At this time, Luleka contacted DSA and started a relationship with Margot McCumisky, National Manager of DSA. “I signed up to become a DSA member and would ask advice from Margot on how to run my support group. She assisted with literature and guided me on all the steps,” Luleka explains.

The group started informally in 2017, but in 2019 Luleka registered it as a NGO. Due to the restrictions in 2019 the group couldn’t meet. However, they still supported each other via WhatsApp.

“Together with Stellenbosch Municipality Community Development Department, we had Wellness Days, where we had different themes: How to keep moving (exercise routines)How to be financial savvy and What is diabetes and how to manage it.

Luleka believes that more diabetes education is needed in the public sector and dedicated public facilities for people living with diabetes, such as footcare and wound care clinics are needed.

DSA helps Ikhaya Diabetes Support Group

During COVID many of the members of Ikhaya Diabetes Support Group didn’t receive food parcels from the government. So, Luleka called on Margot from DSA to assist.

Luleka explains, “The food parcels were for the members in the support group. Most of the members are pensioners and don’t have other sources of income. We assisted them as some of them at that time used their money to get medication at the pharmacies as the community clinic was full and high-risk for them to go sit there and wait on their meds.”

Margot managed to get assistance from various churches in Stellenbosch and then dropped them off at Luleka. She then delivered them door to door.

Margot is currently assisting to get a blood glucose testing machine for the group and they continue to work as partners.

Balance is easy

The mother of three says achieving balance is easy. “Everything has its own time. I’m a family orientated person so it’s easy to balance work, family and diabetes, as it is now part of my lifestyle. I deal with it every day.”

MEET OUR EDITOR


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on editor@diabetesfocus.co.za


Warren Epsey chooses determination over diagnosis

A diabetes diagnosis couldn’t even disrupt Warren Epsey’s sporting lifestyle. With honest acceptance, immense planning and the support of his wife, he is set to take on Ironman.


Warren Espey (37) lives in Lakeside, Cape Town with his wife and twin daughters (8).

Avid sportsman

Ever since I was a child, I always enjoyed being active and playing all sorts of sports. I started surfing at a young age and then through school I enjoyed rugby, cricket, golf and tennis. After school found my passion for cycling and running, with golf as a social sport. Four years ago, I found a new passion in triathlons.

All in all, I have done three marathons, eight half marathons, three half ironman distance triathlons, and many small triathlons. I also did the Knysna Extreme Triathlon 0.5 (2km swim/100km bike and 30km trail run), 100miler MTB race and many road races.

Diagnosed as an adult

I took part in the 2019 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon and was feeling really good. Then at 30km I hit the wall as runners call it. For the last 12km I  struggled but managed to finish. I then headed off to China for business and whilst away I was extremely thirsty, drinking up to eight litres of water a day. I thought I may have been dehydrated from the marathon and then travelling.

Once I returned I contacted my GP as I was still extremely thirsty. He did tests and confirmed it was diabetes. He explained that the wall I hit was a sugar low and not knowing this was a great learning lesson for me going forward.

Treatment

I was initially put onto tablets and treated as a Type 2. That, however, was short-lived as my blood tests came back and I was put into contact with a specialist physician. He diagnosed me as a Type 1 and admitted me into hospital for a few nights to get my glucose under control and to get my insulin dosage correct.

Ever since then I’ve been on insulin (short-acting and long-acting) and only my dosages have changed. This constantly depends on many factors, such as sports and training to eating patterns, etc. Currently, I use insulin glulisine (short-acting) and insulin glargine (long-acting).

Managing diabetes while doing sports

Honestly, managing diabetes and endurance sports is very difficult and I’m still learning. Whilst the training is nothing short of hectic, it becomes challenging to manage my blood glucose.

Different run sessions, for example, will all effect my blood glucose differently. The weather also has an impact on blood glucose together with diet and what has been eaten in the past 12 hours.

As said, I’m still learning how to manage this. I’ve recently been using the FreeStyle Libre to help understand what happens to my blood glucose levels whilst being active and also to help understand what happens after meals.

It’s a constant learning curve and I feel having diabetes and enjoying endurance sports, this will continue as there is no exact science as to how the body will cope with the session, the heat, the intensity, etc.

Becoming a DSA member

Once I was diagnosed, I wanted to learn more about diabetes so signed up to become a DSA member. Once I’m educated enough I want to help others as there is not much info and support in SA. I believe we are very uneducated, and we need to help one another.

I would like to attend one of the DSA Support meetings that they host so I can meet and learn from other people living with diabetes.

Family adjusting to diagnosis

My wife and I decided to keep our girls involved in everything like shopping, why I can’t eat certain things, carb counting, how I take insulin. They are very knowledgeable about diabetes for their age.

With that said, for eight-year-olds, they understand as much as they can without striking fear into them. As parents we have taught them as much as we can without making them fear the diagnosis.

Eyes set on Ironman

A goal of mine has always been to test myself and see who the real Warren Espey is. It may sound cliché, but I really find that sport and especially endurance sport isn’t so much about talent, but more to do with mental toughness and true reflection of an individual.

The commitment to the training over a year (three years thanks to COVID) will really uncover the cracks in an individual. The learning you get, and self-reflection will only bode well for what life can and will throw whether it’s work, family, friends, or the normal life pressure one deals with.

I believe Ironman will help in so many personal areas, not just the medal you get at the finish line.

Delayed, delayed and delayed

The plan was to do my first full Ironman in March 2020. However, with the pandemic this was delayed to November 2020 which then became March 2021 which became November 2021.

I had trained from February 2019 for this but, in August 2021, we found out our one daughter had to undergo some brain surgery in October with no secure timeline on hospital time to full recovery time. So, I stopped all my training and focused on my family.

Things have gone as best they could go all things considered. So, I’ve deferred my entry until March/April 2023. The date is still to be confirmed.

My new goal for this year now is to do The Comrades Marathon and three half Ironman distance races this year as this is more plausible with the timeframe of what has transpired recently.

Training 

A general week of training eight months before a competition is:

Monday – 50 min gym session; 3,8km swim

Tuesday – 1h40 indoor bike session; 12km run

Wednesday – 3km swim; 50 min gym session

Thursday – 2-hour indoor bike session; 12km run

Friday – Interval running: warm up 2km, 16x300m sprints with 100m jog in between, 2km cool down

Saturday – 4-hour ride onto 20 min run off the bike

Sunday – 21 km run

Achieving balance

Maintaining balance in work, family, diabetes management and everything else is the most important thing to achieve. I’m very lucky in that I have the most supportive family and friends around me. My wife is very special and not only supports me but encourages me.

Having the support, I do makes life a lot easier. She is so involved with my eating and diabetes and tries to help whenever she can.

Planning is vital, and sacrifices have to be made to achieve a goal. Early morning sessions. Work unfortunately is work and pays the bills. Evenings vary depending on the block of training I’m in, when its serious then it’s tough. I try train as much as I can at home on the indoor bike or treadmill, so my presence is still there, but it’s hard either way.

Diabetes is always there and managing that is a constant thing that needs to be accepted and made a part of your life. Acceptance of the disease is so important.

Ryan Pasqualle – overcoming depression

Ryan Pasqualle tells us how having diabetes led to depression and a suicide letter but thankfully with the support of his family he pushes on every day.


My story starts when I was 7 years old. Wherever we went, I needed to use the toilet less than five minutes after leaving the house. My parents we very concerned, because it would happen anywhere, no matter if I drank water or not. I was eating loads and was losing weight!

One Thursday evening, my dad went to our local pharmacy to find out what was wrong. The pharmacist gave him a urine container and told him to bring back a sample of my urine to have it tested. After my father got the urine and returned it to the pharmacist, he told him to take me to the doctor.

We went to the doctor on Friday and the following day the doctor phoned to say that I had diabetes and we had to go immediately to hospital.

Minutes after we got the news, my mom and sister rushed me to the hospital to get treated. The doctors gave me amazing treatment and got my blood glucose levels down to a decent level.

Life turned upside down

Finding out that I had to take insulin every day for the rest of my life was a massive shock. I had no way of knowing how to cope with it. It wasn’t only the fact that I have diabetes, it was the fact that I had no idea what diabetes was. I’d never heard of it before. Thankfully, the doctor was very helpful; he took a lot of his time to explain what diabetes was. After he explained it, I had somewhat of a grasp on my illness.

It took me round about two weeks to be discharged from hospital. I had no idea how I would go through my day-to-day life with my newly found illness, but my family and doctors supported me every step of the way.

It took me years to really get a hang of my diabetes, it was about three to four years to get my blood glucose levels semi under control.

Depression and suicidal thoughts

Having diabetes really took its toll on me; it led to me being depressed and writing a suicide letter. However, my dad found the letter and rushed to fetch me from school and took me to hospital to get help for my depression.

I wasn’t happy about being in a psychiatric ward, it made me feel like I was put in a jail, but I couldn’t be mad at my family because they were only looking out for me.

I stayed in that hospital for more than three months. It was tiring to have your every move watched, you weren’t allowed to do anything, not even have your phone on you. But after I was discharged, I was so happy, because I came home to loving family, and I was extremely happy to see my dog.

We are only trying to survive

Every day is a challenge for a person living with diabetes. We must live our lives watching what we do and eat. There are days where we can’t even eat an ice cream in warm weather, because the heat from the sun pushes our readings up.

It’s tough living like this. Our lives are in constant danger, and it’s our duty to control it, but it’s difficult to control it when all you want is to be like a normal child. All you want to do is eat what other kids eat, drink what they drink, and live how they live. People will call us sick, weird, different, but we’re normal, our lives just have extra tasks to do daily. We aren’t weird, we are only trying to survive.

Ryan with other camp leaders at 2019 Diabetes Children’s Camp in Kommetjie, Western Cape.
Ryan with other camp leaders at 2019 Diabetes Children’s Camp in Kommetjie, Western Cape.
Ryan and family celebrating his sister's graduation.
Ryan and family celebrating his sister's graduation.

Pamela Molefe: My journey of diabetes, being a nurse and part of DSA

Pamela Molefe shares her journey of living with Type 2 diabetes, being a nurse and how she joined Diabetes South Africa.


Pamela Molefe (77) lives in Port Elizabeth. She has two sons and one daughter. She worked at Livingstone Hospital for 20 years and was transferred to Provincial Hospital Port Elizabeth where she worked for 11 years in a Head Injury Unit.

Getting diagnosed

In 2004, I was on night duty when I had to go to hospital at 23:00 to be examined as I wasn’t feeling well. As a routine before being examined, a specimen of urine was obtained and tested. Four parts of glucose was detected. A finger prick was done to test my blood glucose, and 14mm/l were the results. My diagnosis was Type 2 diabetes.

I found the news weird as I never had any symptoms. Then, I was asked about the family history regarding health, and I had no clue of any relative who had diabetes at that time. I was in real denial, telling the doctor all sorts of stories, like I have eaten sweets, and I have just taken a coffee with three spoons of sugar. The doctor looked at me, knowing that I was in denial, and said ‘Diabetes will kill you’. My prescribed treatment was Glucophage 500mg BD (twice daily). I was shocked and thought it’s the end of the world for me.

Family history

After two or three days, vividly it dawned on me that my two aunts died from diabetes at the ages of 80 plus. My mother died, at the age of 58, due to cancer of the pancreas. I assume diabetes would have affected her if she didn’t pass away from cancer.

After being diagnosed, my weight dropped drastically and my superior in the ward noticed. She called me and spoke strongly about the need to eat. Honestly, I had lost my appetite. Gradually, I picked up weight after two months. I’m on treatment that I comply with and thus I am a controlled diabetes patient.

My eldest son (50) has also been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Simple treatment

Even though there is medication for Type 2 diabetes, there are simple interventions that you can implement to manage your health and not have to take medication.

  1. Sunlight for 20 minutes daily which gives you vitamin D.
  2. Rest regularly during the day.
  3. Exercise but be careful not to over-strain.
  4. Healthy diet (there’s no such thing as a diabetic diet).
  5. Self-confidence and independence (don’t expect other people to run after you).
  6. Real friends who will journey with you during this condition.
  7. Join a wellness group (sharing with each other about the condition).

Finding out about DSA Port Elizabeth

Because I wanted to be active, I got a job in a frail care centre and retirement village. This is where I got to know about DSA Port Elizabeth from my nursing manager, Barbara Coetzee. Her husband had diabetes and Barbara was attending the Diabetes SA wellness group on his behalf. So, she recruited me to attend and I was eager to gain knowledge.

We had our meeting once a month at St Georges Hospital from 19:00 to 20:00, with different speakers. I enjoyed the educational talks and looked forward to the next ones.

After two years, I was approached to join the Management Board of DSA Port Elizabeth. They wanted an IsiXhosa speaking member. I immediately said yes.

DSA nursing advisor

Since being on management, I was made nursing advisor. This means at every monthly meeting as I enter the hall there are early birds who are waiting for their blood pressure and blood glucose to be checked. Many questions are asked and if I am unable to answer, I refer the question to the relevant speaker.

Annually, we (Martin, Elizabeth and myself), visit Jeffreys Bay for a workshop at the Pellsrus Clinic. Even there, I have my table with pamphlets and I check patients blood pressure and blood glucose. It’s much appreciated by the residents concerned. Surely, they missed us in 2020 due to lockdown.

I also attended a workshop in Walmer Township where different health conditions were highlighted and I was assigned to represent our diabetes wellness group. I also visited New Brighton location where most of the attendees were pensioners.

Every year, we get invited by big companies to their wellness day for different health conditions. I enjoy these functions as I have the longest queue at my desk as it’s more of IsiXhosa speaking people attending. We supply them with informative pamphlets and educate them on diabetes. They are usually eager to have their blood pressure and blood glucose checked as most don’t get a chance to go to their local clinics to do check-up unless they are sick.

During lockdown, we, as board members, meet through our WhatsApp group when the need arises. I hope this year there will be a difference from these pandemic restrictions. I’m still eager to serve in the coming year as a board member.

Always learning and sharing the knowledge

At work, Barbara assigned me to take care of the diabetic residents in that institution. I became the favourite, as when I was off residents would ask for me as they trusted me, especially those who were on insulin injection.

I acquainted myself with our well-equipped DSA library which has informative books and I learnt that diabetes is not the end of the world and the best care is what I listed as the simple treatment. Just maintain it in all stages of life. If one follows that trend which is far cheaper than medication, you can survive as diabetes is a lifestyle condition. But remember to always take your diabetes medicine as prescribed by your doctor and to see him regularly for check-ups.

Pamela Molefe testing at Pellsrus, Jeffreys Bay.
Counselling an employee at Autocast.

Cara ten Cate – Reflections of a TD1 teenage girl

Cara ten Cate, a Type 1 diabetes patient, shares a creative piece of writing she penned in regard with having diabetes.


Cara ten Cate (15) lives in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal with her parents.

I have an illness called diabetes, Type 1 to be exact. As it’s a part of my routine to inform my peers about this illness, it’s not the diabetes that sparks curiosity. The automatic facial reaction to my statement is towards the simple but deadly word ‘disease’. This word causes reactions so intriguingly cringy, it almost forces a feeling within you to jump behind a bush and hide.

Just one reminder though, don’t give me your sympathy. You may ask why I don’t want your sympathy but I’ll get to that in a moment.

This monologue will be far from grammatically correct, or might even sound like it’s been rushed. However, I have recently accepted my newly-found courage to openly share my story, because after all I am defined by this invisible force. The power it has held over me, the consumption of emotion it’s caused, the fearful depth, the capacity within has led me to finally say that this illness has unrepeatable beauty.

We are living in a society entirely hypnotised by the idea of outer beauty, normality, time and pity. We live in a world where positive outcomes are the expectation of all living species, but listen. I am a failure and I am proud.

I was diagnosed at the age of 5. I am 15 now and I still can’t count my amount of insulin dosages. I rely on people’s care, taking more than I care for myself. I barely inject myself anymore. I still don’t read labels on foods or drinks. So, ya I’ve been failing for 10 years and I’m proud. It is the failure that has gotten me here today.

I continue to refer to my failures in the present tense because it’s not my past. It will never be. It’s the continuation of my future and my now. If I can admit that my failure continues to define me and spark growth within my maturity, then you may call me a failure for the next few years because without that I wouldn’t have the emotional and physical awareness I hold onto to this day.

Diabetes defines me, and don’t tell me otherwise. I grew up listening to social platforms, family members, friends, etc. telling me that this disease shouldn’t hold severe control over me. Guess what, it did and still does because I’m living with it.

Growing up with diabetes I was saddened by a feeling of no control over myself, and yes that is still partially true but I now know it’s my body’s way of expressing a compromise between that five-year-old little girl and my 15-year-old self. Compromise is key. I’m not saying to continue a path of lacking self-growth within managing an illness, but use the failure as a way of identifying the problem, planning a solution and kicking its ass. Don’t expect structure.

The backwards law states that expecting positive will lead to negative outcomes. However, it’s the acceptance of negative that will prove to be a positive experience. Diabetes isn’t easy, it never was. I am living proof of a negative and positive outcome. It’s through this half and half lifestyle that I have learnt sympathy is the worst thing given.

As someone who has diabetes, sympathy has the power to make me feel as if I’m a walking disease. This may have a dramatic tone, though I bet you will find plenty of other people with diabetes who will strongly agree.

Why are you sorry? You as a human who may never endure a physical illness will never get to realise the hardships of having the jealousy we feel towards peoples’ functioning pancreases, all for the reason being that they produce insulin. For that I say sorry to you.

This piece of writing will never be one to be used as a piece for school. My story does not deserve to be graded. This is my life, the span of my 10-year journey with an illness that changed a five-year-old tiny life into a whirlwind roller coaster of ups, down and mediums within a flash of a second. As humans, we all have our low moments, but just like a roller coaster we find ourselves soaring again.

The day of that diagnosis, you are immediately classified as a different personality, “The diabetic.” Hi, I’m that diabetic and I think that’s pretty cool. Don’t grow up with a label you regret, especially with one that was not a choice and was given by a group of societal members that have no understanding of this illness.

I spent years trying to hide the fact that I was diabetic. I was ashamed and embarrassed, but oh do I wish I didn’t. Wishing for the past to change won’t do anything, so as I continue entering my nows, know that I am no longer embarrassed and you shouldn’t be either.

This is my story, it wasn’t chosen but it’s there and I’m happy to say that I had a story. I wasn’t able to choose my storyline but I was able to choose my purpose for it. My purpose is spreading my acceptance to the people who are struggling to cope with this newly found

illness. Even if you don’t have diabetes, please know that you and I aren’t so different. We have individual stories, different storylines, evidence and even characters. Though our words and emotions will forever be conjoined. I am diabetic and that’s who am meant to be.

Elizabeth Gunther – Surfing the waves of diabetes

Elizabeth Gunther talks about living with Type 1 diabetes, her kombucha business, Tea of Life, and her love for surfing and her dogs.


Elizabeth Gunther (35) lives in Muizenberg, Cape Town with a house mate and her ‘two incredible dogs’.


Living her best life

Currently, my life consists of building my business, Tea of Life; walking my dogs; surfing; and managing my Type 1 diabetes. I am single and don’t want any children as I would not know where to find the time!

I do, however, spend a lot of time with my friends and family who are extremely supportive of my chronic illness. Though, it has been said that I was friendlier before having diabetes.

When I surf, I mostly go with a friend in case I experience a low episode. My housemate is also very empathetic and cares about whether I make the correct food choices.

Diagnosis

At the age of 21, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It was about a year after I worked on a cruise line as a beauty therapist. Two years before that I was involved in a car accident. To this day, I am not sure why I got it. No one in my family has had diabetes.

Family feasting

We always lived very healthy lives as children. We ate fruit salad, nuts and lentil soup versus braai broodjies, lamb, and malva pudding.

Feasting for my family was getting fish and chips once every second month; Sunday drives for Marcel’s English Toffee Frozen Yoghurt; as well as my dad’s health rusks, banana clusters and incredible carrot cake with loads of pecan nuts!

I always had a weakness for sweet things but to find a packet of biscuits or a Cadbury’s slab in our house was as rare as winning the lotto.

Insulin

Throughout a day, I use more or less 16 units of Apidra and 20 units of Tresiba at night. To test my glucose levels, I vary between Optium and Contour machines. I realise this might be slightly outdated. But, my endocrinologist does not suggest the insulin pump as I surf whenever I get the opportunity.

Kombucha lowers glucose levels

My passion for kombucha started about 10 years ago when I attended a kombucha workshop in Knysna. I instantly savoured the taste, not being aware of the extensive health benefits of this fermented tea.

Soon I discovered that kombucha lowered my blood glucose levels. So much so that I needed to inject less insulin. Fermented foods slow down the digestion of carbohydrates thus stabilising blood glucose levels.

I started feeling great within my body. It radiated my skin and gave me a natural energy boost that was fantastic at that stage. The words of Kris Carr, a wellness activist and cancer survivor, “Gut health is the key to overall health” started making sense to me after introducing the probiotic health beverage into my diet.

And now I run my own kombucha business, Tea of Life.

Feasting as a person living with diabetes

Feasting for me is drinking good Double Flat Whites at carefully selected coffee shops or making my own. I also enjoy dark chocolate and luckily those two things do not increase my glucose levels too much.

Cooking balanced meals with all five food groups as a single person is not that easy. When I visit my parents, and eat home-cooked meals, my glucose levels are way more balanced.

Most times no one would ever know I have diabetes, except an intimate partner. It definitely is hard for a partner of someone living with diabetes and at times frightening. Hence why I have two dogs. It is way less stressful!

I have been to many psychologists to help me cope with the ups and downs of this disease and it has helped as much as it can. I think most people living with diabetes are rebellious (in my experience of talking to many of them) and something about this disease is meant to change that.

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Life after a heart attack – Vaughan Wood

Vaughan Wood, who has Type 2 diabetes, tells us how he survived a heart attack and about his recovery process.


Vaughan Wood (55) lives in Port Elizabeth with his wife, Gail, and their son, Cameron.

Watching my mom suffer with Type 1

My mother passed on at the age of 67, in 2003. She was diagnosed at the age of 16 with Type 1 diabetes and used Humalog insulin.

She first lost a toe with gangrene, then a foot, the first leg, and then the second leg was also amputated.

As a young child growing up, I often came to her rescue with glucose tea when she had a hypo. Sometimes it was quite difficult as she would clench her teeth refusing help, saying that she was fine.

With her last amputation, she was too weak for general anaesthetic. She had some sort of epidural type of anaesthetic, and she said she could hear the instrument of the surgeon as it cut the bone of the leg.

My diagnosis

I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, at the age of 52, after struggling for energy at the rear of a mountain bike race.

The doctor sent away the blood sample for an average test. Later, he prescribed metformin and Diaglucide, including a complimentary diet sheet to follow.

My wife and I run a small care home and approximately one quarter of our residents are on diabetic medication.

I considered my diet to be relatively conservative. However, I had been known to polish off more than one cake at one sitting. Comfort food was my thing.

I managed to control the obvious process, and sweet products, with my glucose levels being mostly in the correct ranges with the new medication.

I decided to enter the Karoo to Coast Mountain Bike Race, which I last rode in 2004.

Heart attack

One night, on the 17th April 2019, my breathing was a little strange. With the weather becoming colder in the evenings, I presumed it was the result of a virus.

As a precaution, I missed an evening ride, not realising that I would be rushing to hospital with a heart attack later that night.

Dizziness, shortness of breath, and a panic attack off the scale. I made the emergency room in survival mode, not even checking in, just making my way to the nearest bed.

I was handled very well. Although in my mind, I wondered why they were taking so long, and why the nurse was so insistent on drilling me on whether I had taken any Viagra.

Later I found out that Viagra does not mix well with the medication they were to give me, before placing me in cardiac care. LuckiIy, I responded well and the next morning I received two stents, one of which, even the cardiologist seemed excited about.

Recovery

Heart medication was added to my list of medications, and all was going well until the panic attacks started. The first one, in my mind, was another heart attack. I would easily have passed a lie detector as this was so real.

The heart was like a tree, I was told, and the roots would have to feed it, till the affected part recovered. No strenuous activity for seven weeks until my treadmill test. At first, just walking from shop to shop was tiring enough.

After a couple of weeks, I started short walks, progressing a few hundred meters every time. Eight weeks after saw my first short cycle. I was given the go ahead to exercise after the cardio test which was hugely uplifting.

Best advice

I was advised to smell the roses by someone who had a similar experience.

There are two other bits of advice that stick out for me. The first from our regular dietitian at the diabetic support group I attend, was to make one change at a time.

The second was from a Canadian doctor. He told me that our taste buds can change with time.

Not only am I making positive changes, but I am starting to enjoy making better choices with food.

I am not sure what has made diabetes the epidemic it is today. However, I know that we have more information at our disposal than my mom had in her day to deal with it, and live a good life.

I decided to walk a trail instead of riding this year. While walking I saw a Knysna Loerie in beautiful natural surroundings. That is me smelling the roses.

When I am ready, I will collect my number for the next ride, in my own time.

Vaughan's wife, Gail.
Vaughan and his son Cameron.

MEET OUR EDITOR


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on editor@diabetesfocus.co.za


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Diabetic Athletic – Nicholas Caracandas

Nicholas Caracandas, a Type 1 diabetes patient, tells us how he is paying it forward with his Diabetic Athletic programme.


Nicholas Caracandas (32) lives in Pinelands, Cape Town with is partner, Deborah. They have one daughter.

My diagnosis

Back in the early 2000s, at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at my aunt’s house for the weekend. She had just opened a Greek restaurant and we decided to go as a family to celebrate. I remember spending the weekend with an unquenchable thirst. I had a dry mouth and a thirst that just wouldn’t go away. Anything I could find, I would drink and just seconds later be as thirsty as ever before.

My vision started to blur and I was urinating every five minutes. I put the frequent urination down to the fact that I was drinking a lot of liquid. The fact that I was drinking sugary drinks to quench my thirst wasn’t helping me in any way.

Mom also a diabetic patient

My mother had been a Type 1 diabetic patient for five years prior to this day (my diagnosis). She wasn’t with me on that weekend so when I told her in the week, she took me for tests immediately.

Due to circumstances, I was taken to a government hospital and tested for diabetes. It was confirmed, I also had Type 1 diabetes, just like my mom.

I remember staring out of the hospital window which overlooked the highway and thinking to myself how life was going to change. I didn’t understand diabetes very well, if at all. As a 12-year-old boy, I had seen my mother try and deal with the exact thing, with much difficulty. I knew I had to try and tackle this for the rest of my life.

Even at that age, I knew that my choices from then on would determine every outcome that would come my way.

Good foundation set

I was fortunate enough to have a good professor help me manage my diabetes initially. The lessons he taught me have stayed with me until this day.

After talking to him, I knew I stood at a crossroads but I also knew where I wanted it to go. He said to me that I needed to make a choice as to whether I was going to allow the diabetes to control my life, or if I could be brave enough to step up and choose to control it. I chose to control it.

Helping each other

My mom helped me with the basic things like finger pricks, bedtime meals and insulin. She also shared her daily experiences with diabetes; this was of great help.

Unfortunately, my mother struggled with managing her diabetes. I saw her in multiple diabetic comas as a child. Though, somehow it taught me more about the importance of management. Plus, our situation worked because we helped each other.

Getting into fitness

Going through school with an endocrine disorder that affected energy levels, overall moods, muscle gain, and just being a kid in general, I knew that whatever I chose to become after school would have to revolve around my diabetes.

I knew that I had to choose a career that would put myself and my diabetes first. My fitness journey started when I was 17 and I became a personal trainer at age 18, and have gone on to owned three successful fitness facilities over the past 10 years, learning many important lessons through victories and failures.

Early on in my career, it was clear I had the natural ability to take the specific industry jargon and explain them in ways my clients could understand, remember, and apply. This is a skill most don’t see as being very important.

With the years of experience, I have been able to share my knowledge of how fat loss works and help those needing to achieve it.

Diabetic Athletic

I decided to merge my two worlds: fitness, strength and conditioning and living with diabetes. I knew that one day I would turn it into a programme that could help people living with diabetes in the same, if not better, manner as it did for my clients needing to lose fat successfully and sustainably.

Diabetic Athletic is over 10 years old. Today it is a fully interactive, educational video course that arms people living with diabetes with all the tools they need to achieve and manage diabetes through nutrition, exercise, education and support.

The Diabetic Athletic video modules are aimed for people wanting to reverse pre-diabetes and overcome their struggles with diabetic overwhelm, diabetic management, obesity and fat loss.

I noticed most programmes address very few of the much-needed facets of diabetic and fat loss success.

Fat loss, diabetic control, education, nutritional guidance, general guidance and 24/7 support are the foundational needs to your success. As diabetics we need them all, not just one or two. The Diabetic Athletic programme provides them all

Us, diabetics, are faced with hundreds of decisions each day, all the while still trying to lose fat and regain our health.

The support and guidance provided by Diabetic Athletic allows people to not only educate themselves as to how fat loss works, what diabetes is, and how to manage it, but also how to use the tools they are given.

The triangle of control

You will hear me speak about the triangle of control at my academy as well as in my video series. The triangle of control is all about managing your weight and diabetes through exercise and nutrition before medication.

Now, where diabetes is concerned this means eating foods that keep glucose levels constant. Being active, to keep glucose levels controlled and using whatever medication needed to make up for the rest.

If you get the triangle of control mixed up, you eat bad foods which results in less than optimal activity and you will need to administer far more insulin than a non-diabetic would need.

Keep in mind insulin is a hormone. Every action has a reaction. More insulin leads to a heap of processes that lead to weight gain, energy lows, and overall issues.

Pre-diabetes and obesity

For those dealing with pre-diabetes or obesity, the triangle of control is still my holy grail.

For these individuals, the medication aspect is not insulin but rather the marketing gimmicks and magic pills people are sold every day. They are made to believe that the fat burners, meal replacement shakes, and all the other crazy things (that do not work) are the answer.

These big corporations need to make money and do so by playing on our needs and, at times, desperation to lose weight and regain our health.

Pay it forward

I have dedicated my life and profession to doing for others what that professor did for me 22 years ago.

You can be in control and you can lose weight, properly, sustainably and for good. You can take charge of your health and live your best life.

There are many that are standing at that very crossroads I once stood at. Diabetic Athletic is a support system and the final stop to life-long fat loss, management and success.

Managing my diabetes

Since I was diagnosed, I have been using a glucometer to test my glucose levels up until 2018. I now use a Dexcom G6 and have been using it for just over a year now.

I currently use Toujeo long-acting insulin pens and Humalog as my short-acting insulin.

My exercise regime consists of walking each day. I am a 10 000 steps-kinda-guy throughout the day. This is an accumulative 10k steps per day. Not a-get-it-all-done between 6am – 7am.

I lift weight three times per week and play as much sports as I possibly can. Fitness needs to be fun. We cannot and will not sustain anything if we don’t enjoy it.

Having a supportive partner goes a long way. She supports and encourages me in every way possible and enjoys that she can monitor my glucose levels as well. She uses the Dexcom Sharing App to do so, and is very clued up about diabetes and helps maintain healthy habits in the home.

I am proud to say my mom follows my programme and content and says she has learnt about glycaemic index, fibre, salt and carbs.

For more info on Diabetic Athletic, visit www.diabeticathletic.com or www.facebook.com/diabeticathletic/

Click below to learn more about the Free 3-week training & nutrition program for diabetics!

MEET OUR EXPERT


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on editor@diabetesfocus.co.za


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I saved my coach’s life – Kyra Stevens

We chat to Kyra Stevens, a 15-year-old living with Type 1 diabetes, who saved her athletics coach, Shafiek Murphy’s (48) life, with quick-thinking and action when he went into a diabetic coma.


Kyra Stevens (15) lives in Kenilworth, Cape Town with her parents, Marco and Kim, and her brother. She is a Grade 9 pupil at Sans Souci Girls High School.

Kyra to the rescue

On 11 July 2019, Shafiek Murphy, a Type 1 diabetes patient, was found on the floor, in the community room, at the school. He had recently returned from the Winter Games, in Durban, where he coached the Western Cape girls U/15 rugby team. Unfortunately, he became ill while on tour.

The principal, Ruschda O’Shea, and two other teachers were called. Kyra sprang to their minds as she has diabetes as well, and had informed the school. When Kyra arrived, she tested Shafiek’s blood glucose level which was extremely high. She then administered insulin into his abdomen, before another teacher rushed him to hospital.

At the hospital, Shafiek’s blood glucose level was 36 which is near fatal. After X-rays, Shafiek was diagnosed with a chest infection and tonsillitis. The doctor explained that if Kyra had administered the insulin five or 10 minutes later, Shafiek would have died.

One-on-one with Kyra

Tell us in your own words what happened on that day when you saved your coach’s life.

I was in a class lesson. Then very randomly my maths teacher approached me in the class and asked for my glucometer. I asked him why. He responded by saying that someone went into a diabetic coma. I gave him my FreeStyle Optium Neo glucometer and told him that he has to warm the fingers before checking the glucose level.

No later than five minutes, I was called via the intercom to come to the community room. I ran there knowing that is was Coach Murphy as he was the only other person in the school who has diabetes. When I got there, they told me I must test his glucose levels. So, I got everything ready.

But when I pricked a finger on Coach Murphy’s left hand, no blood came out as his hands were already cold. I told one of the teachers to warm up his right hand warm so I could get blood.

Eventually I got blood and his glucose level was really was high. Immediately, I asked where his emergency kit and insulin were. I found his insulin in his bag and injected 25 units in his abdomen.

After that Coach Murphy was taken to the hospital. The very next day, he phoned me to say the doctor said if it wasn’t for me, he would have died. So, I saved his life.

Are you proud of yourself?

I am proud. But, at the moment, I have no words to explain how. Everybody is asking me how do you feel and how this, and how that and I’m like, “Ja!”

Do you and Coach Murphy have a good relationship?

Coach Murphy started working as the Head of Sports at our school at the beginning of the year. So, yes we have a relationship and we had spoken to each other about diabetes. But since this incident, we have become closer. I have been checking up on his every day, sending him messages asking if he is okay.

When were you diagnosed with diabetes?

Two years ago in July 2017. I am currently using an insulin pen and administrate Humalog, Protaphane and Actrapid.

Has it been easy to be open about your diabetes at school?

Yes it has. I have told most of my friends and all my teachers know. At  the beginning of the year, my parents had a meeting with all my teachers and the Grade Head. The first year I was diagnosed, my parents also held a meeting so all my teachers knew.

Have you ever experienced bad lows or highs?

Yes I have, but I have never gone into a diabetic coma.

Have you fully accepted your diabetes?

Yes and no. More a no, because I don’t have a grasp on it yet. It’s not easy for me because I have never had to checked my glucose before I ate. Now I do.

Normally, I was like, ‘Okay food is ready.’ But now, I see my brother eating and my mom and dad eating and I’m the only one who has to check my glucose levels before I can eat. Sometimes I’m really hungry so I don’t check and then don’t inject at all.

Has this incident showed that good management of glucose levels is important?

Absolutely! Now more than before it’s encouraged all of us (my family) to be more aware of what could happen if we don’t control my numbers.

One-on-one with Kim Stevens, Kyra’s mom

How proud are you of your daughter?

When Kyra came home and told us about the incident, she played it off as though it was not a big deal. It was only until I heard from Coach Murphy that I completely understood the gravity of what took place. It is a super proud moment, for myself and my husband, to know that Kyra was calm under pressure and she managed to do what she did. I don’t know if I would have been able to do it.

How does it make you feel to see your daughter go through the journey of accepting her diabetes?

I think Kyra going through puberty has a lot to do with being able to accept being diabetic. Plus, she was diagnosed with ADHD in Grade 3. That was hard for us to get through and work through.

Kyra attended Timour Hall Primary School and every single year of primary school was hard for Kyra. Hard to make friends, hard to keep friends, hard to get invited to parties, hard to please teachers. She was always in trouble.

But then she started Grade 7 and she absolutely enjoyed it and there was such a change. Once we got the ADHD under control, she was then diagnosed with diabetes. This news has thrown our whole family into a total spin and it has been hard for her to accept.

But due to the fact that she used her knowledge to save someone’s life is tremendous. This shows us that even though she acts like she’s not interested in the management of her diabetes, she has taken note of what to do. So, it gives us, as parents, a little more confidence to be able to trust her if something should go wrong.

Is Kyra’s medication covered by medical aid or public hospitals?

We started off at The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital at the Diabetic Clinic there. It is a fantastic hospital, with brilliant doctors. Everyone was super nice and the education we got there was top class.

Since the beginning of this year, we were transferred to the outpatients at the Groote Schuur Hospital as part of the adolescents diabetic clinic. She still gets to see the same doctors because the doctors work at both hospitals. We collect her medication from the public hospital, Groote Schuur Hospital.

What are the financial implications of having a child with diabetes?

I think I speak for everyone when it comes to eating healthy. It is just so expensive. So, we try to encourage Kyra to inject. I made a deal with her that she can eat what she feels like, but she must inject. There was a period, for about six months, where she wasn’t injecting at all. She wasn’t even checking her glucose levels. Because of this, we considered trying a continuous glucose monitor but it was just expensive. We cannot even think about getting her one.

I was thinking of doing fundraisers to raise funds but that money will only last so long. What happens after that? So, the financial implications are quite severe. My husband and I run a small business, and have to pay salaries and adding a diagnosis of diabetes to the mix has just thrown us in the deep end. We still just trying to swim. But, we will do what we have to to ensure Kyra’s health is good.

MEET OUR EDITOR


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on editor@diabetesfocus.co.za


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