November is American Diabetes Month.
Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes your pancreas to reduce or stop producing insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood and related blood-sugar levels. I am one of the approximately 3 million Americans who have type 1 diabetes.
There are two types. With type 1, your pancreas shuts down and stops producing insulin. With type 2, your pancreas still functions but doesn’t make enough insulin.
I grew up in Wadena and moved back here in 2004 with my beautiful wife, Shanna. We have four children, all of whom were born at TCHC.
I was a 21-year-old college student at the University of South Dakota when I first learned I had diabetes. Some friends and I went for ice cream, and one of my friends, who had type 1 diabetes, decided to check my blood sugar for fun. My blood sugar turned out to be higher than normal.
I soon learned I also had type 1 diabetes. It was surreal, as I had not had any health problems. I decided that I would make the most of the diagnosis and embrace the lifestyle changes that I would face through education, healthy eating and exercise.
My day starts and ends no different than most people. However, in between, it involves checking my blood sugar four to six times a day by pricking my finger and ensuring my blood sugar levels are controlled. I wear an insulin pump, which administers insulin. Based on what I eat, I have to take additional insulin.
Living with diabetes is not without challenges. If I don’t take enough insulin, my blood sugar rises and could cause a condition known as ketoacidosis where I can get really sick. If my blood sugar gets too low, I can get lightheaded and shaky.
One thing that helps me control my diabetes is diet. Fortunately, my wife is a trained chef and is passionate about creating healthy recipes for our family that also support a type 1 diabetic lifestyle. We also stay physically active, and combined with diet, these are the two ways I can control my diabetes.
Despite the challenges of diabetes, it’s a disease that you can manage and allows you to live a normal life with lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. The more you do those, the less insulin you’re going to use and the healthier you’ll be.
More awareness, more research
Many autoimmune diseases, not just diabetes, are prevalent in today’s society, which have led to more awareness and more research.
I believe that the research being done will result in a “cure” for type I diabetes in my lifetime. The technology for living with diabetes has improved dramatically since I was diagnosed.
If you receive a diabetes diagnosis, learn as much as possible because it’s going to change your life. You should also understand that it’s not a terminal diagnosis. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic, but they can be managed with lifestyle changes. You can live a very normal life. Just stay positive.
Resources close to home
Tri-County Health Care has come a long way in the past decade with diabetes awareness and the ability to serve our patients. We have a great diabetes education program with knowledgeable educators who are willing to go above and beyond for our patients.
We treat diabetic patients, and if there’s ever a situation where our providers don’t have an answer, they know where to find it. I visited an endocrinologist in Minneapolis for many years but now feel more comfortable treating with Dr. John Pate instead. The care he provides me is exemplary.
Anyone who has diabetes or who is interested in learning more about diabetes is welcome to attend TCHC’s Diabetes Support Group, which meets the third Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center in Wadena.
For more information about diabetes, call the TCHC Diabetes Education Department at 218-632-7113 or click here.
About the Author: Matthew Van Bruggen is married to Shanna, and they have four children, Ava, 11; Jack, 9; Theo, 2; and Vivian, 1. He has served on the TCHC Board of Directors since 2010. He is a practicing attorney, a youth hockey coach and an avid sports fan of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Wild. He also enjoys spending time with his family and enjoying many of the year-round outdoor activities Minnesota has to offer.