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Russell Thurman - Type 2 Diabetes

Russell Thurman never had any reason to be tested for diabetes — or so he thought. The disease does not run in his family and his yearly physical results were always good. So when his physician reported he was a type 2 diabetic, Russell was more than stunned, he was scared.

Russell has been a truck driver for over 17 years. Due to the long hours on the road, his exercise routine did not warrant gold medals...nor did his diet. He would often snack out of boredom.

Russel Thurman

“It wasn’t rare for me to eat two or three doughnuts at a sitting, or a couple of candy bars. I knew why I was overweight.”

But Russell was not terribly concerned with his health — until 2005. A few days after visiting Dr. Paul Fine at the University of Michigan Department for Internal Medicine for his annual exam, Russell received a call reporting his blood work results. Dr. Fine explained that Russell’s blood sugar level was elevated, so he needed to come back for more testing.

On the return visit, the physician performed an A1c test, which is used in the care of people with diabetes as a way to calculate their average blood sugar levels over the previous two to three months. Startling to Russell, his results were well above the normal range — he had type 2 diabetes.

Russell was frightened by the diagnosis. He had seen firsthand the complications the disease can cause if not treated properly and was afraid those images would become his reality. After the shock wore off, however, he slowly began to make changes to his diet and daily exercise routine. In addition, his physician prescribed an oral medication to decrease the amount of sugar (glucose) his body would absorb from food.

So what changes did Russell make? He began working out on his treadmill at home. “It took some time, but I have worked up to walking one hour. I watch television or a movie to make the time go by faster.”

While Russell does not have an exercise routine while he is on the road, he does take advantage of small opportunities to get some physical activity. “I park my truck as far away as I can in the parking lot and instead of a slow walking pace, I step it up and walk as fast as I can. Every little bit helps.”

As far as his diet is concerned, Russell began to change the amount and types of foods he ate. His wife, Sharon, wanted to be supportive, so she began substituting ingredients in their favorite foods and avoided buying desserts at the grocery store. However, this actually annoyed Russell.

“She was trying to help me and I did appreciate that. But I wanted to make the decisions and I didn’t want to feel like someone else was making them for me. Plus, I didn’t want my whole life to change. I knew I had to eat better and control my portions, but I felt I could still have some of our favorite foods, with the best ingredients, if I just watched the amount I ate.”

Russell took small steps. He switched from regular soda to diet soda containing Splenda. He also learned portion control.

“I eat things in moderation now. I love A&W root beer from the tap. I know it contains a lot of sugar but if I allow myself to have one, then I just choose lower-carb options for the rest of my meal. Diabetes does take daily management, but it does not have to control your life,” Russell states. “For example, I used to love white breads and potatoes. I would eat huge servings of them. Now, I watch my serving size. If I am going to eat hash browns for breakfast, I limit other high-carbohydrate foods and drinks at that same meal. Again, everything is in moderation now.”

Russell also is disciplined at monitoring his blood sugar.

“I check my sugar between six and 10 times a day using a glucometer. I like to see what certain foods and quantities of foods will do to my sugar levels. I will eat a small amount of a food and then test my sugar two hours afterwards to see the effect. So, if I want some type of candy as a treat, I eat one serving. Then I test my blood sugar two hours afterward. Depending on what my glucose level is, I may have to cut back on the serving size next time or I can allow myself to have more. I look at it as a challenge — an effort that yields results. If I couldn’t test my sugar, I don’t think I could force myself to eat healthy, but testing often comes with a price.”

Russell’s insurance company, like most others, only covers enough test strips for him to check his blood sugar twice a day. Therefore, he purchases additional test strips over the counter, which is quite expensive. For some type 2 diabetics, testing twice a day is sufficient, both from a health and personal point of view. In Russell’s opinion, he likes to monitor more frequently and feels he is in better control because of it, but wishes his insurance company would cover the cost. Physicians often feel divided on the issue. On one side, they see patients who would benefit from testing more often, like Russell. However, for some patients, excessive testing could result in needless worrying.

Russell also attended the diabetes educational classes at the University of Michigan, and met with Linda Dale, a U-M nurse educator, and Andrea Lasichak, a U-M nutritionist.

“They were absolutely wonderful. Since I am out of town frequently, Linda actually met with me on a one-on-one basis, which was great. The nutritionist, Andrea, listened to what I liked and disliked and we worked together to develop healthy options that I would still enjoy.”

Russell’s overall words of wisdom can be summed up as "one size does not fit all."

“What works for me may not work for you. Everyone’s body is different and foods that may affect my blood sugar may not affect yours. You have to find what works for you, but at the same time work with your physician and listen to what he or she tells you. It is a deadly disease if you do not take it seriously. But if you do, you can live a normal life.”

Russell admits he is still learning about diabetes and how certain foods affect his blood sugar, but he has lost weight, is in control of his diabetes, and feels better than ever.

“I contribute my good health to Dr. Fine. He offers exceptional care and I fully trust his judgment and recommendations. Overall, the care at the U- M is superior. I feel I am very blessed in life. I have a supportive and loving family and a great job. I actually look at the diagnosis as the wake-up call I needed. I take care of myself better and I actually feel it prevented more serious health problems from occurring."

Learn more about type 2 diabetes