"I never realized potatoes metabolized so quickly into sugar. Why don't they teach us these things? Everyone around here eats lots of potatoes."
Purkey learned to count carbohydrates and learned that diabetes can damage your heart and every organ in the body. "So if I got my blood sugar under control, I'd be preventing heart attacks and all kinds of bad stuff," she said.
She drove to classes in Huntington, then went to a Marshall University dietitian. "She told me how many carbohydrates I should be eating a day, taught me how big a serving size is and what the relationship is between my carbs, fats, and protein. She showed me how to figure out what to eat within those limits."
She still eats potatoes, "but I just watch how much and how they're cooked and what I eat them in combination with," she said. "I don't eat more than two carb servings a meal, and that can include potatoes. I ate a brownie last night."
Her A1C test number has dropped from 9.8 to 6.4. An A1C score of 7 or higher is diabetic. "My doctor said she was proud of me, but not half as proud as I am of myself," she said. "Now I can stay up late to play music if I want to."
"Maybe I can help"
Purkey came to the organizing meeting of the new Logan Diabetes Coalition in early June. "I've been around the block with diabetes and thought maybe I could help."
One in six Logan County residents is diabetic. "It's the silent killer of our people," she said. "Everyone knows there's deaths in the coal mines, but we don't realize that every day, diabetes is killing people quietly."
Daughter of a railroad worker and union coal miner's wife, Purkey has been through poverty, coal strikes, hard times and raising grandkids. A well-known singer in labor circles, she has sung from California to Chicago, "but nothing I've come up against has been tougher than diabetes," she said.
"I've learned what to do. I drink more water. I don't drink pop. I work in the garden and walk several times a week. I count carbs. Now that I realize something can happen to me, every day seems more precious. I take better care of myself so I can stay around."
Her taste buds have adjusted. "You start liking different things. My husband's gone through this with me. He was a salt freak, but now at a restaurant, we tell them to leave off the salt. We salt it ourselves. If they salt it, it doesn't taste right anymore."
"I've made up my mind. I'm not going to let this disease kill me. It has damaged my stomach, and I still have little strokes, yes, but it has not damaged my heart or kidneys yet. And so far, so good with my eyes."
Two days ago, she got a crew together and recorded two more Friendly Neighbor shows. "On the day I record, I might get up and work in the garden from 6:30 to 12:30, then go to Chapmanville and record two shows, and maybe not leave till after 11:00 P.M., and I'll feel fine," she said.
"Sometimes I stop and think, I can't believe I feel this good."
She plans to go to the July 10 diabetes coalition meeting at 11 a.m. at the Chapmanville Municipal Building. "If I can help other people feel this good, I will," she said. "We've got to start educating people, even if we do it one on one."
She lives just over the Lincoln County border in Harts, "but there's no reason we couldn't make a chapter right here in my neighborhood. I've already got people interested."
Reach Kate Long at 304-348-1798 or katel...@wvgazette.com.
"The Shape We're In" was written with the help of the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.