Read more: This is how bad diabetes can be
WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- The winter of 2010-11, it snowed a lot in Mingo County. Fifty-four-year-old Everette Ray Roberts was shut in for days, "me and my dog," in a small trailer perched on a steep hillside near Matewan.
"I was constantly dizzy and thirsty," he remembers. "With all the snow, I wasn't getting out and walking around, doing stuff. I'd gained a lot of weight. My eyes got blurry.
A rugged bachelor, Roberts has three ruptured discs in his back "from heavy lifting," he said. "Every job I've ever worked was brute labor, steel mills, basic labor. That takes its toll on a person's body."
"I wondered if I was going nuts from being shut in. I'd get so shaky, shaky, sitting on the couch watching TV, and I was pouring down the 24-ounce bottles of pop, five or six of them a day. It was like adding gasoline to the fire, all that sugar, but I didn't know it.
"All I knew was, I was terrible thirsty. I kept a gallon of water sitting beside me for when I ran out of pop."
Then he started gasping for breath. "I couldn't sleep. I'd get real, real sweaty." He had to keep running to the bathroom. "I thought maybe it was high blood pressure or something."
"I didn't have a clue what was going on. I had no idea what danger I was in."
He was one of an estimated 69,000 West Virginians who have diabetes, but don't know it.
Roberts "grew up rough on a humungous farm" in Wayne County, he said, where "all us kids worked hard to make the place go, and our dad taught us to deal with problems and not complain." He toughed it out.
Living on an isolated Mingo hillside, "going to the doctor in the snow is not exactly easy, and it's expensive," he said.
When he finally did go, "the doctor said, you've got all the symptoms of diabetes. My sugar was up the high 400s. My A1C, the three-month blood sugar, was 12.5." Normal A1C is around 2. Anything above 7 is considered bad.
"The doctor said it was a good thing I didn't wait any longer to come in."
His doctor referred him to diabetes educator and nurse practitioner Vicki Lynn Hatfield in Williamson. Hatfield and her partner help about 500 of Mingo's estimated 3,500 diabetics figure out how to control it from day to day, despite sometimes-harsh realities of life: shortage of cash, two jobs, kids, and so on.
"I lucked out," Roberts said. "If it hadn't been for Vicki, I'd probably be in kidney failure now," he said.
He and Hatfield went over what he ate, how often he ate, his schedule, his physical activity. She had him keep a list. To get rid of his dizziness, shakiness and blurry vision, they planned specific ways he could change what he ate or when he ate and increase physical activity every day, They got his medicine adjusted.
Roberts went to Hatfield's group diabetes self-management classes at Williamson Memorial Hospital. He learned how to shop for food that wouldn't set off his blood sugar, how to read his own blood sugar levels, tricks of coping with depression.
"Everette is somebody who, once he found out how to control his diabetes, he took the reins," Hatfield said. A year later, his blood sugar was in normal range. He requires less medicine to keep it there.
"He doesn't have a lot of money and he doesn't have a lot of education, but he learned very quickly how to do it. And, just as important, he did it," Hatfield said.