- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The line was long and Robby Huey doesn’t really like standing in lines. But something, he said, made him wait.

It was about seven years ago. Huey, then 52, attended an “over-50 expo” at the Baton Rouge River Center. A hospital offered free diabetes screenings.

When his turn came up, he sat down reluctantly and let someone perform a medical test on him as a line of strangers wound behind.

His blood sugar measured 400.

“That’s pretty much out of the ballpark,” said Huey, 58.

At 5-foot-6, Huey weighed 264 pounds at the time. “I knew I was overweight,” he said.

He blamed his sedentary warehouse job, partly, since he sat down between infrequent deliveries. But food was and still is his weakness, he said, “and we live in danger zone of food.” He had always laughed off his mother’s warnings about diabetes, which she often delivered before watching him consume another indulgent meal. “Don’t eat that!” she’d yell.

The expo screener told him to see a physician. Huey was startled. But mostly, he said, “I was just really afraid.”

Then he researched diabetes online.

Type II diabetes often surfaces in adults who are genetically predisposed, overweight, just getting older. Type I shows more often in children. Either way, diabetes shuts down the pancreas so the organ doesn’t make enough enough insulin or any at all. Insulin breaks down sugar, and high blood sugar can damage other organs, said Dr. Daniel Hsia, an endocrinologist and assistant professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Type II diabetes can lead to kidney failure. It’s the No. 1 cause of both blindness and amputations. Diabetics are more susceptible to heart disease and strokes.

Huey saw a physician, who confirmed the diagnosis. He sought a third opinion.

“I was in such denial,” Huey said.

The news sent him into “a kind of depression mode,” he said. He tried herbal treatments. They did no good. Eventually he decided to take charge. Specialists at Pennington helped, he said. Huey is one of dozens of subjects participating in a study to find the best drug combination to manage diabetes. The center is still seeking more diabetics, up to 150, to participate in the five-year study.

Since he joined the study, Huey said he’s feeling hopeful and his diabetes is finally under control. He’s also worked with primary care providers to change his lifestyle.

He played sports in high school and through his 20s, Huey said, but his activity then dropped off. His nurse at Baton Rouge General Hospital recommended 150 minutes of activity a week, or 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Huey said he walks around City Park Lake as often as he can, daily if possible.

Huey is not alone in his struggle to identify and manage his diabetes.

-Nearly 26 million U.S. residents have diabetes, which translates to one in 10.

-In many parts of Louisiana, the prevalence of diabetes is 50 percent higher than the national average.

-The disease costs Louisiana $5.4 billion each year in drugs, doctor bills, lost wages and more.

-One out of 3 people has pre-diabetes, and many don’t know they have it.

-A new recommendation says adults should get screened for diabetes by age 45.

The most common symptoms of diabetes are chronic thirst, frequent urination and the desire to drink a lot, Hsia said. Huey said, however, he never noticed any symptoms.

“That’s the scary thing about diabetes,” he said.

Huey is not sure what made him stay in that line about seven years ago, but “I thank God I did… It (was) God’s way of saying, ‘Wake up.’”

By talking about his diabetes and participating in the study, Huey said he thinks God is using him to help others confront what he called “the silent killer.” And that makes him feel good, finally.

Pennington is one of 30 sites participating in the GRADE study in which Huey is volunteering. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the goal is to enroll 5,000 participants nationwide.

All will take Metformin and will be assigned at random to one of four other drugs approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

Huey, who started the study about eight months ago, said he goes to the center about three times a year and finds scheduling to be flexible.

People interested in participating can be screened online at Pennington’s website or can call 225-763-3000, Hsia said.

___

Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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