Celebrating less diabetes medication with flowers and a new hairdo
By Cindy, a Virta patient
When I was told that I had type 2 diabetes in 2009, I was already having a difficult year: my mother was dying of breast cancer, and my youngest son was serving in the Air Force. On the bright side, shortly after my mom’s death, I was also looking forward to the arrival of two new grandbabies. As I received my diagnosis, I worried that I might not see them grow up. I had two aunts who had died as a result of their diabetes. Diabetes led both of them to blindness and amputations.
I couldn’t let myself go down that path. I was determined to see my grandbabies grow up and be healthy enough to enjoy retirement with my husband.
At first, since I was obese, I focused on dieting to lose weight. I managed to lose over 150 pounds, but I was still overweight. I had some initial success in managing my diabetes through weight-loss, but eventually I would backslide and go into denial. The standard diets I tried were part of my problem with sustaining the weight loss. I always questioned the diabetes educator's insistence that I needed carbs to keep my blood sugar level stable. This advice seemed like offering alcohol or drugs to an addict: one taste and I couldn't stop. I was also a very emotional eater.
In addition to losing weight, I also took oral medications to manage my diabetes. At first, they started me on metformin. As my A1c got worse, they increased the dosage over and over. Then they added glimepiride. Even though I was taking these medications, I was still getting worse, and the dosages continued to increase. When both medications were at the maximum dose, I had to try a new drug called Victoza. I quickly had to stop taking the Victoza injections because they made me ill every day: I had nausea, vomiting, and had a horrible taste in my mouth. I worried about the cost of these medications whenever our health insurance changed, and I also worried about how long I would be able to continue working.
Even with all the dieting and medications, my weight started creeping up, and I felt tired all the time. I wasn’t able to keep up with my granddaughters, my husband, or my family. I had trouble just going up and down the stairs, let alone carrying my granddaughters. I wasn't an unhappy person, but I didn't feel right. I felt old before my time, and it limited my activities. I worked at my desk during the week and went home every night exhausted. When my granddaughters asked why I couldn't do something, they would answer their own question by saying, "Nana is just feeling old." In the back of my mind, I knew that it wasn't fair to anyone to let my diabetes and other health issues get worse. But nothing I tried to manage my diabetes was working, and I seemed to be running out of treatment options.
Everything changed in January 2019, when I opened up an employee benefits newsletter describing a new treatment that could potentially reverse my diabetes. My employer, Nebraska Medicine, was offering the program free to the first 100 employees that qualified. At the time, my A1c was at an all-time high of 11.5%, my weight was 280 pounds, and insulin injections looked to be in my immediate future. I started the enrollment process immediately and began the Virta treatment in the first week of February.
Since starting Virta just a few months ago, I’ve already reduced my diabetes medications and dropped my A1c by over 5 points, all the way down to an estimate of 6.2% based on my average blood sugar readings. That’s below the diagnostic level for diabetes. When I was told to stop the glimepiride, I celebrated with my family, friends, and coworkers. I even got flowers from my son's girlfriend. This past week, my Virta doctor told me to cut my metformin dose in half, and I celebrated with different kind of cut: a new haircut and style! I have also stopped taking omeprazole as I no longer have heartburn. It’s great not to have to take a handful of pills every day! And I now see the possibility on the horizon of not needing to take any medications for diabetes.
I’ve also lost nearly forty pounds, and my blood pressure has come down. To my surprise, my asthma has improved immensely: I haven't used an inhaler or Nebulizer treatment since January. I now feel that I have more energy, and I’m able to keep up with my co-workers and family. I no longer have as much pain in my hips and knees, and the pain at the bottoms of my feet has improved immensely. My knees are not as bothered by going up and down the stairs. I have so much more energy and motivation to do things now, even on weeknights after work. I can imagine my future retirement as one where my husband and I can be active together, instead of me being just a spectator.
The main reason Virta works for me is its coaches. They are so encouraging, and they find answers to my questions without making me feel like I am imposing. I also found the medical supervision reassuring, since my Virta provider, Dr. Stanley, had everything under control and was also quick to answer my questions. The Virta app is also essential to keeping me on task and helping me figure out which changes I need to implement. I also have to credit my faith, husband, family, friends, and coworkers for supporting me and keeping me focused on this new journey!
For anyone considering trying Virta, I think that it is a no brainer. Go for it! The Virta coaches help you find the things that work for you, and will cheerlead you to success and good health. Before Virta, my future, health-wise, was grim. Now I have HOPE for not just more years of life, but also QUALITY years of living!