Reversing diabetes means more quality time with my sons

Published on 
November 26, 2019
April 26, 2024

by Retha, on Virta for 4 years

I have wanted to take care of children for as long as I can remember. In my early 20s, I worked in the pediatric unit of a local hospital. I have seen so many kids come through this unit, and have rocked the fussy ones to sleep at all hours. After my shifts, I would often tell my husband that I wanted to take each of them home, and he said, “What you need are some kids of your own.”

He was right. If anyone asks me to define myself in the best way I can, I would say that I am the mother of two sons, both of whom I love fiercely. Ironically, it was through the birth of my older son that I first came to know type 2 diabetes. After his delivery, I experienced a brief period of elevated blood sugar levels. Even though it went away after a while, this incident flashed as a warning sign in my head.

I have a family history of diabetes, so maybe it’s unsurprising that throughout my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. Still, my own diabetes diagnosis in March of 1980 came as a shock. I saw several family members go through what I call “the Big D,” including my mother, who passed away from kidney failure due to diabetes. I considered the diagnosis to be a death sentence.

My boys were still young then, so I refused to even consider leaving them motherless. I immediately devoted myself to learning all I could about the disease and ways to manage it. I tried Weight Watchers, vegan diets, Optifast shakes, even fasting for months at a time. None of these attempts lasted. I even considered bariatric surgery before ultimately deciding against it due to the risks and complications.

All the while, my A1c levels stayed around 6.3%, and at my heaviest, I weighed 430 pounds. The daily Trulicity injections totally worked against my weight loss goals because it made my body cling to every pound. Struggling to lose weight was probably one of the most frustrating things about having diabetes. My size made it difficult to do even the most normal, everyday things, like grocery shopping.

Between my weight, the medication regimen, and trying to find a treatment that worked, I often felt like my whole life revolved around diabetes even though I would much rather focus my time on caring for my sons and my husband.

One night, my husband Dennis called me over to our living room. He wanted me to see Dr. Sarah Hallberg talking about diabetes reversal on TV. My first reaction was, “Dennis, everybody talks about getting rid of diabetes. None of them know how to do it.” But he convinced me to at least give her a listen.

I thought for sure that Virta was going to be based on those hard-to-swallow powdered shakes. Imagine my surprise when I was told that I would be eating real, whole, delicious foods until I was satisfied, like eggs, bacon, and cream cheese. Having tried and given up on so many programs in the past, I was skeptical that the changes Virta asked of me would be sustainable. For example, popcorn is my guilty, not-so-secret pleasure, and she was asking me to give that up?!

But I followed her instructions, and here’s the key that made it work: she didn’t just ask me to stop eating popcorn. She educated me on why I needed to give up popcorn. She taught me the science behind why foods like popcorn and biscuits were harming my body, that even though they weren’t sweet, my body was still breaking them down into sugars.

It was then I decided to sign on and be one of the first patients for Dr. Hallberg’s clinical trial of the Virta treatment, and I have been going strong for over 4 years.

My Virta care team helped me understand my personal reason for wanting to reverse diabetes. I did it for my family, for my husband and my children. I think of my health like those oxygen masks on a plane. The safety message always says to put your own mask on first before you help your children do the same. It took me a long time, but Virta helped me realize that I need to take care of myself in order to be around to take care of my boys, even though they are grown now and may not need me in the same way as when they were small.

There have been so many Virta victories that I can’t even keep track. 2 years ago, my doctor stopped my metformin for good because my A1c stabilized at 5.5%. That was a huge victory! I’ve stopped the Trulicity injections, along with every other diabetes-related medication, and also lost 123 pounds over the course of my 4 years on Virta. When I saw my younger son last year, he reached his big arms around me–he’s 6’3”–and said, “Come here, Skinny!”

With all these improvements in my life, there is still one thing that hasn’t changed: my drive to continue on the Virta treatment and improve my health for my children. My oldest son has moved closer to me and helps with many of my day-to-day activities, and I am so blessed to have this chance to be with him. I wish I could see my younger son more, but I dream of the day when I can spend time with him and my entire family in the best way I know how: cooking their favorite meals.

Over the last 4 years with Virta, they’ve given me countless more years back to my life, all the more time I have to look forward to this dream coming true.

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