My father had type 2 diabetes. When I was 27 years old, he underwent surgery for blocked carotid arteries in his neck. He had a stroke a few days after the surgery and was in a vegetative state for a year and a half until he died.
After that I began to think that maybe I wasn't invincible; I made it a priority to get a physical every year. However, I wasn't really that worried. Even though I was 300 pounds and 5'11", I didn't consider my weight a problem because I was a competitive wrestler in high school. In my opinion I took good care of myself.
However, I knew I probably ate too much. Instead of one helping, I'd have at least two, sometimes more, and there were plenty of midnight snacks. My eating habits started when I was young. My mother was Italian, so most meals were enormous plates of pasta. If I didn't clean my plate, my father would yell at me.
My life went to hell
Then about eight years ago, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes too. I had put on about 40 pounds since getting married, but I was still shocked.
At first it wasn't too hard to watch what I ate and monitor my blood sugar. I started to slip a little when my first daughter was born and I became wrapped up in caring for her. And then we had a second daughter.
Then to be honest, my life went to hell. I lost my job and my health insurance. I got two jobs to make up the pay, but one was as a temp with no benefits, and the other was full-time but with bad insurance. There was so much stress from working two jobs and supporting two children that I didn't watch what I was putting in my body. My carbohydrate intake went up and I stopped watching my glucose levels.
The biggest difference, though, was the fact that I stopped taking my medication. I was taking Avandia, but I noticed some of the side effects involved heart failure, so I stopped taking it.
My doctor gave me free samples of the oral diabetes drug metformin, which were great, but that didn't last long. When I couldn't get any more free samples, I stopped taking the medication because it was too expensive.
Five blocked arteries led to open-heart surgery
In September 2007, at 38, I came down with bronchitis. My doctor prescribed amoxicillin and Allegra and told me to get some rest. I followed his advice and took a nap on the couch. When I woke up an hour later, my right leg was completely numb and my right arm was tingling, like a bad case of pins and needles.
I was in a complete panic. Both my children were home from school, and they were scared. My wife helped me to the car and we drove straight to the emergency room.
During the ride I kept thinking about my father. I thought I might be having a stroke, just like him. The thought terrified me.
When I got to the hospital, my troponin levels (a sign of heart damage) were high and they said I had a mild heart attack. I couldn't believe it! How could it be a heart attack? I had had a physical last month and everything was fine. I didn't even have high blood pressure or any chest pain.
I stayed overnight, and the next day they took me in an ambulance to another hospital where they performed a heart catheterization and found five blocked arteries. The clogged arteries were caused by neuropathy in my chest area, brought on by diabetes. Less than a week later I had open-heart surgery to remove the blockages.
It's been a long recovery. I was in the hospital for almost three weeks and I was in cardiac rehabilitation for about a month. The doctors used a blood vessel from my leg and the mammary artery in my chest to replace the arteries in my heart. The recovery was painful for the first one or two months, and it still hurts a little bit.
On top of that, the costs of surgery were enormous (even though I now have health insurance). I'm the type of guy who likes to help my neighbors out; they returned the favor. My friends and family threw a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser at the local Knights of Columbus to help us out with the costs.
I almost died this year
Since then my family and I have hit this thing head on. I've already lost close to 50 pounds, putting me at 248 pounds. My diet has changed completely, and I now eat smaller portions and watch my sodium closely.
Instead of just being active on the weekends, I now make it to the gym at least three times a week. Taking what I learned from rehab, I do at least 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and light weights each time I go.
Just when I thought I had my life under control, my optometrist found leaking blood vessels in my retinas, brought on by diabetes. I've had six laser treatments to correct it. I go back in six weeks to see if it all took.
I keep thinking, what's next?
Though it's hard to admit, I almost died this year. I don't want to take my life for granted, and I definitely want to be around for my daughters. I'm alive and kicking, and I'm determined to take care of myself so I don't have to go through this ever again.