It’s National Diabetes Month. This is the first of two articles Blue Shield of California is publishing to highlight the challenges people with diabetes confront, and the positive health outcomes made possible with evidence-based guidance, emotional support, and the right foods that can help heal a body. Approximately 37 million Americans live with diabetes, adults and youth alike; however, nearly half of all people with type 2 diabetes are age 65 and older. Type 1 diabetes typically shows up early in life, often in childhood, and is genetic. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive. This article focuses only on type 2 diabetes.
Maureen O’Connor has a family health history of type 2 diabetes. O’Connor is 63 and says that throughout her whole life she has been on various diets to control her weight and try to stave off diabetes. In 2009, this chronic condition caught up to her. She has faced years of physical and mental frustration in coping with diabetes and its impact on her life, and with doctors who didn’t always listen to her, urging her to take more medicines. “Once I was diagnosed, I was started on glipizide, and insulin was discussed at every single visit with my doctor.”
“Then I found Blue Shield of California during the early days of the pandemic,” she said. “My employer’s health plan offered Blue Shield as one option, and as I researched the various plans, I noticed the Wellvolution program and its examples of success. I’m a self-motivated person and don’t really need direct help or hand-holding, but I need accountability,” said O’Connor, a health information management revenue cycle manager for the San Francisco of Public Health. “Since being diagnosed with diabetes, my A1C levels and weight have gone up and down, and I wanted to be accountable to someone to stop this pattern.”
Based on the short questionnaire she completed, O’Connor was matched with Virta Health, the leader in type 2 diabetes reversal that helps diabetics lower their blood sugar and lose weight, while eliminating the need for medications, including insulin. “My life began to change almost immediately,” she said. “Virta Health gave me the accountability structure I needed to achieve my health goals.”
Another positive for O’Connor was the technology-based tools Virta sent her. “I’m a gadget person and loved that I could upload data about what I was eating, what my A1C numbers were, the medications I was taking, my weight, etc. into the Virta database so the doctors and nutrition coaches could recommend changes to further improve my health,” she said. “Also, I really valued having the Virta provider be another advocate for me, someone who listened to me.”
Benefitting from continuous remote medical care from Virta physicians and individualized nutrition guidance from her personal coach, O’Connor lost 75 pounds within 18 months, lowered her A1C significantly, eliminated two type 2 diabetes, glipizide and Januvia, and reduced her dose of metformin along with a weekly dose of Ozempic. “I learned that food really is medicine, as I embraced Virta’s lifestyle eating. I am in the best health I’ve been in an extremely long time,” she said, happily.
An important element in this change to O’Connor’s health is her dramatic weight loss, which made double-knee surgery possible to address her chronic arthritis pain. That led to her ability to exercise daily, along with walking to places she formerly had to drive to.
“Once I had my new knees and my new, healthier way of eating, I became a different person,” said O’Connor. “I ride my stationary bike, using the Peloton app every day, follow the Virta lifestyle eating plan, and have more energy, self-confidence, and sense of well-being than ever before. My knee surgeon said he’d never seen anyone recover as I did, and my friends can’t believe how I’ve changed for the better.”
Getting back to good health was something that O’Connor says she didn’t believe was in the cards for her. But now, she says, “From a mental health perspective, I feel encouraged as I get older, and don’t dread aging. I’m in good shape, emotionally and physically, something that still surprises me every day.”