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Published in CenterView on January 28, 2013

Financial officer’s personal webpage helps raise diabetes awareness at UMMC

By Gary Pettus

Rhonda Hale always took her keen vision for granted, but last summer, her whole world fell out of focus.

It was this attack of blurred vision that opened her eyes.

“When I went to the doctor,” said Hale, assistant chief financial officer for University Physicians, “I believe I probably already knew what was going on.”

The diagnosis confirmed her hunch: diabetes – a condition that had been stalking her for years, but which she ignored until it finally pounced.

Now, at age 36, she is taking action, not only for herself, but also for others by telling her story.

In her battle to control her newly-diagnosed case of Type 2 diabetes, Hale wants to “share my journey” with other UMMC employees.

She hopes to keep them informed of her progress, once a month or so, through a webpage ( – updates on her blood sugar levels, weight loss, lifestyle changes and challenges.

“It may raise awareness about diabetes in Mississippi,” said Hale of Ridgeland. “It would certainly hold me accountable. I hope it will inspire others to take the journey with me.”

In Mississippi, there are many potential fellow passengers: Almost 280,000 adults said they had been told by a doctor they have diabetes, as reported in the United Health Foundation’s 2012 America’s Health Rankings.

That’s 12.4 percent of Mississippi’s adult population, the highest rate for any state. The lowest, reported by both Colorado and Utah, was 6.7 percent.

Among the warning signs for people with undiagnosed diabetes is blurry vision, as Hale discovered.

But she had been warned years earlier.

Diabetes ran in her family. And about 10 years ago, she had been diagnosed as pre-diabetic when she was in her mid-20s – too young to have to worry about diabetes, she thought.

But even young children are now being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, in which the body either ignores or does not produce enough insulin, the hormone needed to convert food into energy.

“We have 6-year-olds going on 60,” said Dr. Naznin Dixit, professor of pediatric endocrinology, “meaning we have young kids with adult diseases, including hypertension, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.”

There was also this: Hale has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that puts women in danger of contracting, among other things, Type 2 diabetes.

“So I thought it wasn’t necessarily my lifestyle that put me at risk; it was the condition I had, PCOS,” she said. Her habits were not really to blame, she thought.

“But it was poor eating, a combination of several things, that led to the diabetes,” she said. “It’s amazing; I took for granted that it wouldn’t happen to me.”

While visiting her relatives back home in Lexington, Ky., it happened.

Suddenly, the faces of people just a few feet away seemed to be under water.

The lettering on street signs melted before her eyes.

“I felt disoriented,” she said.

When the doctor gave her the verdict, “I don’t think I was shocked,” she said. “A large part of it was, ‘Now that I’m diagnosed, what does that really mean?’”

It means an increased risk for heart attacks, kidney disease, eye damage and developing infections, particularly in the feet, that don’t heal well, said Dr. Zeb Henson, assistant professor of medicine who has subspecialty training in hypertension.

“Oftentimes, the infections can be treated only with amputation,” Henson said.

Although there are medications to help control diabetes, lifestyle changes are important, Dixit said. Since obesity and type 2 diabetes are often linked, getting the condition under control often means losing weight.

Recently, over a period of three-and-a-half weeks, Hale lost six pounds. Since Henson became her physician, she has enrolled in a diabetes class sponsored at UMMC.

She has switched from regular soda to diet, converted from white bread to wheat, shunned the elevator in favor of the stairs. She plans to start an exercise program once her blood-sugar level is under control. “It’s still too high,” Hale said.

Henson has not given her a weight-loss goal, he said, “but I generally start with 5 percent of body weight. We look at small, attainable goals. When patients lose weight in small increments they are more likely to keep it off.”

Both Henson and Dixit commended Hale for telling her story.

“This can raise awareness,” Dixit said. “People can learn that simple, small changes can result in long-term rewards.”

Said Henson, “I’m proud of her. It takes a large amount of humility to put your name and face out there. You have to swallow your pride. You have to let people in on a matter that most want to keep private.”

So far, it hasn’t been that difficult to make changes, Hale said.

“Not after I realized the consequences. The consequences never hit home
until now.

“This is not a choice.”

Types of Diabetes

Type 1: Usually diagnosed in children and young adults; previously known as juvenile diabetes. The body does not produce insulin.

Type 2: The most common form of diabetes. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with it, and many more are unaware they are at high risk. It is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, along with the aged.

Gestational: Developed by many women during pregnancy. A diagnosis doesn’t mean diabetes was present before the pregnancy or that it will continue after birth.

Source: American Diabetes Association

Warning signs

•  Extreme thirst 
•  Frequent urination 
•  Numb/tingling feet 
•  Blurry vision
•  Fatigue 
•  Unexplained weight loss 
•  Difficult-to-heal sores

Source: Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi