Read more: W.Va. slammed with sugar
BELINGTON, W.Va. -- BELINGTON -- Glenda Blake grew up in Barbour County, an ornery little round-faced girl who loved to take care of the animals on her grandparents' farm.
Her grandmother, who taught her to cook, had diabetes. Her mom had diabetes. "Everyone in our family had sugar," she said. "It was just something I always knew about."
She figured she'd get diabetes too. "People thought, if people in your family have sugar, you will too. We didn't know it could be prevented."
As a young woman, she cared for elderly Barbour County diabetics in their homes. For the past 14 years, she has cooked at The Good Samaritan nursing home in Belington. Half the residents are diabetic. "She's the person you'd want cooking for your mother," says administrator Mark Nessman.
Now she's teetering on the edge of diabetes herself. Her blood sugar waltzes up to the brink. But she has found she can do something about it. She keeps waltzing it back.
Last November, feeling depressed and tired, not sure what was wrong, she trudged into the Belington Clinic, Barbour County's community health center. They told her that her blood glucose had spiked to prediabetic range, between 100 and 125.
"They told me they had a new health coach who could help me keep diabetes from happening." A half hour later, she was sitting in Jill Weingart's office, spilling out her story.
Her son had lost his job and moved in with her. Several nursing home residents were in crisis. "I worry about them all the time," she told Jill.
"You're always putting other people first, aren't you?" Jill asked gently. As soon as she said that, Glenda burst into tears. Jill handed her a box of Kleenex. "You're a caretaker," she said. As women, we're always putting everybody else first," she said. "It's time for you to think about Glenda too."
Glenda wiped her eyes. "Let's make sure you don't get diabetes," Jill said. "We can take it step by step,"
Glenda looked at her, dabbing her eyes. "My services are free," Jill said. That's true at all community health centers. As the diabetes epidemic grows in West Virginia, many have started diabetes prevention services, sometimes classes, sometimes coaches.
Glenda has no insurance. She makes $350 every two weeks. If she were diabetic, she could get insulin free through the clinic if she needed it, but not the diabetic finger sticks and testing strips, which cost about $45. "I can't afford to get diabetes," she said, as if talking to herself.
"To keep from getting diabetes, you'll need to lose 5 to 7 percent of your weight," Jill said. "That's going to be 20 pounds. You can do that. Maybe lose a pound or two a week. You don't need to do it tomorrow. It's not safe to lose fast.
For 45 minutes, they talked about what Glenda eats and how her day goes and plotted ways she can make small, manageable changes.
Jill showed her the "My Plate" way to think about food. "That was the most helpful thing for me," Glenda said later. "It's a picture of a plate with four different sections on it. It shows you how to divide your food, to keep yourself from getting in trouble. One portion is your meat and one your rice or white stuff. Then the other two, you fill them with vegetables or fruits."
Jill said exercising would be important. Glenda said she could walk by the river.