Diabetes Awareness Month: Ann Arbor resident shares her diabetes prevention success story

By Joyce Williams / For WLAA

Ann Arbor resident Nancy Ryan has always known that she is an emotional eater. Ryan, who is in her 60s, has struggled with her weight for most of her adult life and tried many weight-loss programs. Like many people, she would lose and gain weight over and over again.

“When COVID happened, I couldn’t outrun all my feelings,” explained Ryan.

When you consider the layers of grief that she has endured, you begin to understand.

Six years ago, Ryan’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack at age 61. Her mother died three months later, and then her son was diagnosed with cancer. Her weight crept up as she weathered one challenge after another.

In 2018, Ryan began grieving the loss of daily contact with friends at work when she retired from a job she loved – as a lifestyle enrichment program coordinator at the Brecon Village retirement community in Saline.

In February 2020, Ryan discovered that her A1C, which measures average blood sugar level over three months, was 5.7. Ryan had prediabetes, a condition where blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. By making lifestyle changes at this point, people with prediabetes can often prevent progression to diabetes.

Concerned about this, as well as her continuing weight gain, Ryan began walking with a buddy three times a week, building up to 5 or 6 miles a day.

During National Diabetes Month, the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM) reminds the public that most of the 2,700,000 Michigan adults with prediabetes don’t know they have it because they have no symptoms. The NKFM encourages people to talk to their physicians about prediabetes. People with prediabetes can prevent type 2 diabetes with lifestyle change programs, such as the CDC-certified Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).

Meanwhile, due to the pandemic, the NKFM had adapted the DPP for distance learning. The DPP features live virtual group sessions with a certified lifestyle coach who encourages participants to track their food intake, reduce the fat they consume and increase their physical activity to 150 minutes per week. Other sessions focus on managing stress, staying motivated and solving problems that can get in the way of healthy changes. Group members face similar challenges as they try to make changes. Together, participants find ways to overcome obstacles and celebrate their successes. The program lasts a full year, starting with weekly meetings for six months and tapering down to monthly meetings closer to the end. The program fee is often covered by insurers and other funding sources.

In July 2020, Ryan started an NKFM virtual DPP workshop. Early on, she felt that her group’s lifestyle coach, NKFM program coordinator Kathy Heselschwerdt, was very invested in the participants’ success. “She understands the resistances we put up but she fights to keep us in the program. It’s about losing the weight and physical activity but about so much more and all of it is wrapped up in relationships — your relationship with the coach and your relationship with other people in the class.” she states. “I appreciate all the reminders, the newsletters, the phone calls, the support, the small break-out groups, and the group interaction.”

Ryan discovered additional benefits to the program that she had not expected, such as learning about self-care. “I started some personal care to address all my feelings – especially journaling and listening to music. I started to care for myself in a way that I haven’t in years,” she said.

Coach Heselschwerdt noticed Ryan’s commitment from the beginning. “Nancy’s consistent attendance and participation in each session and her commitment to working toward her goals all contributed to her success. It is a pleasure to be Nancy’s lifestyle coach. She always has a positive attitude and her encouraging spirit is a joy for the rest of the group!”

By September 2020, Ryan’s A1C had dropped to 5.3 and she was no longer prediabetic. Her doctor, who was very happy with Ryan’s success, was able to eliminate one of her blood pressure medications.

In October, Ryan’s group transitioned to meetings every other week, but each participant still has weekly private phone check-ins with the coach. She remains grateful for the relationship with her coach and the other group members, as they work together on fitness options for the coming winter. After her walking buddy became unavailable, Ryan began taking online classes available through a senior fitness program.

“I love this program and I feel like it’s been effective,” Ryan states emphatically. “I want to spread the word about DPP.”

To find an upcoming DPP information session or for more information, visit ReadySetPrevent.org or call 800-482-1455. For additional information on diabetes, visit the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan at nkfm.org/DiabetesMonth. For information on all the programs the NKFM offers online, visit nkfm.org/distancelearning.

Joyce Williams is Communications Specialist for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan