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Faces of Diabetes, Part 3: Hope remains for diabetes epidemic

By JR Ortega
Nov. 5, 2011 at 6:05 a.m.
Updated Nov. 6, 2011 at 5:06 a.m.

Vicki Viel, 63, of Victoria, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes almost six years ago and since then has slowly reversed her diabetes. Though she will always be diabetic, she feels awareness and will power can help reverse a growing epidemic. Her dog, Bubba, is also diabetic.

If you go

WHAT: Stop Diabetes Day Victoria Community Festival. Meet area health agencies, get free blood sugar and blood pressure checks.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 12

WHERE: Riverside Park, 476 McCright Drive

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last in a series of three stories looking at how diabetes has affected the Crossroads and what is being done to combat the disease.

At 63 years old, Vicki Viel makes life seem easy.

The Victoria resident has been a Type 2 diabetic going on six years. That diagnosis has not stopped her one bit from taking control.

"I've never felt better in my life," said the fiery-looking woman donned in tattoos and an eyebrow piercing.

Taking control and becoming a community of survivors is exactly what needs to happen to help slow the diabetes epidemic to a crawl, some say.

Tattooed with diabetes

Viel rubs her right hand over a tattoo on her left forearm.

"That's Bubba," she said, a smile cracking across her face.

Bubba is her Chihuahua of 11 years. Bubba is surprisingly also diabetic, though he is insulin-dependent, unlike Viel, who checks her blood sugar twice a day and takes her medication.

Together, the two are managing living a normal life.

Viel learned about her diabetes after routine blood work with a new doctor. Her A1C was 8, instantly pegging her as a diabetic.

The news came as somewhat of a shock, but Viel decided she could not let the diabetes define her.

She began Weight Watchers and exercising around her senior citizen living apartment community. She has lost 36 pounds and has dropped her A1C to 6 and her doctor said if she gets it down to 5.5, she could get off her medications.

That news has Viel excited.

Truth about diabetes

"It's such a curable disease," said Dr. John Starkey, a Victoria family practitioner at the Texas Health Center.

Of course, Starkey speaks of Type 2 diabetes, which is what makes up a huge portion of the nearly 26 million Americans living with diabetes.

As a doctor, Starkey has felt the frustration of seeing patients not care enough to watch what they eat or to exercise.

Starkey relates diabetes to cancer, the only difference is it would be the type of cancer that doesn't grow if you don't feed it.

This mind set has the American Diabetes Associations estimating that 1 out of every 3 people born will have diabetes by 2050.

Viel does not understand why someone who can control the disease wouldn't take the reigns and run with it.

"I have to push myself, too," she said.

Being in a fast-food nation is one reason Viel thinks the epidemic is getting out of control.

Viel was a fast-food manager in Michigan at several restaurants, including McDonald's, Arby's, Hardee's and Wendy's.

Viel is surprised about the 1-out-of-3 estimation isn't happening now with these factors.

"It's not a contagious disease," Starkey said. "It's a behavioral issue."

'There is a bright future'

On Nov. 12, John Griffin, a Victoria resident and the chairman of the national American Diabetes Association, hopes the community face of diabetes will begin to turn in Victoria.

"One person at a time, we are going to turn this around," he said.

Nov. 12 will mark the first Stop Diabetes Day event at Riverside Park.

The goal is to gather a community of survivors who can spark a movement of awareness, education and positivity, he said.

Some of the reason the epidemic is so large is because many who can control it subconsciously ignore it.

"Diabetes is a 24/7 chronic illness," Griffin said. "People want it to get better, but some are unable to because of their mental state."

People can become depressed over a diagnosis and others can just choose to ignore it because they don't want to have to change, he said.

Viel can't resist the change, she said.

She cannot wait for the day that she is off her medications; it's been nearly a half decade obstacle.

People such as Viel are transforming the epidemic from one of fear and uprising to one of awareness and power.

"There is a bright future," Griffin said. "I'm hopeful."

[EDIT: Dr. Taylor Starkey was quoted in this story. While his given name is John, he is better known as Taylor.]

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