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How I'll Beat Type 2 Diabetes: A Story of Change

September 4, 2013

Originally published March 12, 2012

Standing at 6'4", there are very few things that are above his height or beyond his reach. That is until he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  He found himself in uncharted waters according to his life plans.

As a retired Petty Officer of the U. S. Navy, an Eagle Scout, and an area coordinator for north Georgia Pathfinders, Lawsey S. Thomas Sr., MSHRM, Deputy Director of Human Resources, has always been prepared for his greatest challenges and seized opportunities to develop as a leader for his country and community. "Type 2 diabetes was totally avoidable," said Thomas, the youngest of 11 children.  "My two sisters had type 2 diabetes but I did not know until I was diagnosed," he said.  The Georgia Department of Public Health(DPH) is urging people like Thomas to know their health risks of diabetes and to take steps to better manage their health - to avoid diabetes or manage the disease. People living with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk complications according to the National Diabetes Education Program.

"I was first diagnosed in 2000," Thomas said.  "My first doctor told me that I would be on medications for type 2 diabetes for the rest of my life. But, after speaking with my new primary doctor and attending a recent lunch-n-learn for employees at 2 Peachtree, I now know that I can manage my diabetes with a healthier diet, daily exercise, and medication," said Mr. Thomas.

Thomas' wife, Lucille, is a registered nurse and brought the added advantage of knowing all the medical issues around type 2 diabetes. "My wife helps me to prepare healthy meals each day," he said. "I must eat the right foods to manage diabetes," acknowledged Thomas.  "Lucille also makes sure that I have my daily meds prepared in my 7-day pill box."

Even with all the medical research available, Mr. Thomas joins the 25.8 million Americans with diabetes - a disease which can lead to amputation, heart disease, blindness, pregnancy complication, dental disease, loss of hearing, kidney failure, and a poor quality of life. Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents because of the obesity epidemic in America and Georgia.

We know in Public Health that some of the top risk factors for type 2 diabetes are excessive body fat and an inactive lifestyle. According to the CDC, any body mass index greater than 30 suggests a person is obese. Diabetes is simply defined as a metabolic disorder in which your glucose (blood sugar) levels are above normal.  Thomas' body either does not make enough insulin or cannot use the hormone as well as it should. The human body needs insulin to process sugar, starches and other foods into energy. When there are problems, sugar builds up in the blood.

"My ultimate goal is to get off the medications," said Thomas.  He told PHWEEK that while two of his sisters were diagnosed with diabetes, his children do not have the disease. He wears a medical wristband to remind himself that his health is his first priority - everyday.

One family member with diabetes can change a family forever.  Lawsey's children are now making healthier choices about food and fitness.  "I've told them that if they want a better quality of life, they've got to make better choices in their 20s and 30s."

Parents are the most important models for children for how to live and what to eat. It is never too early or too late to model good behavior for your children. "My adult children in their 20s need to think about what kind of life they want when they're in their 50s and 60s," he said reflecting on his younger years. "I was always fit as a sailor in the U.S. Navy and I thought could eat whatever I wanted. I realize now that was not true."

"I think it is extraordinary that Commissioner Fitzgerald and DPH have introduced a wellness program at 2 Peachtree," said Thomas.  "InSTEP will allow those who participate to have a healthier mind, body, and personal mission that can lead to being more productive - at work, at home, and in the community," he said. This same motto is similar to Thomas' oath that he took as an Eagle Scout "to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."

Before InSTEP, Mr. Thomas' fitness plan included at least 30-minutes to 45-minutes of daily exercises.  "While I enjoy shopping and walking through the malls, I use this time to get in my daily walks to burn additional calories, reduce my weight, and reduce stress," he added.

The next time you encounter Thomas at 2 Peachtree you will see a man on a mission to beat type 2 diabetes.