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Patient Stories

Small Changes Make a Big Difference
By Healthy Life 2007 Fall

More than 20 million children and adults in the United States, or seven percent of the population, are living with diabetes. What's frightening is that nearly one-third of those people aren't even aware that they have the disease.

At the age of 61, longtime Saugus resident Peter Colarusso was surprised when a routine physical revealed that he had Type 2 diabetes. “I’m just an ordinary guy,” explained Colarusso. “I was a few pounds overweight, but I’d been very athletic in my younger years and thought I was still in decent shape.”

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is a hormone that humans need to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin at all. Untreated, diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, blindness and foot and leg amputations. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetic and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles in Type 2 diabetes.

Colarusso’s primary care physician, NSMC’s Dr. Yuri Levin, made the diagnosis and convinced Colarusso to take it seriously. “Dr. Levin sat me down, and asked me to think about the future,” said Colarusso. “I knew I had to make some big changes in my life, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”

That’s where NSMC’s Diabetes Management Program came in. The comprehensive program helps patients and their families learn the necessary skills for managing diabetes. Along with exercise and medications (injected insulin or oral medication), eating right is important for good diabetes control.
By eating well-balanced meals in the correct amounts, patients can keep blood glucose levels close to normal as possible.

Colarusso’s wife, Betty, attended diet and exercise classes at NSMC alongside her husband, a choice Colarusso says has been extremely beneficial. “She does all of our food shopping and cooking, so it helped for her to hear first hand the nutritional changes I needed to make,” said Colarusso. “Surprisingly, those changes didn’t have as much to do with what I was eating, but rather how much I was eating.”

Colarusso and his wife also started daily three-mile walks along the shore near their Gloucester summer home. After just six months of making those changes, Colarusso’s blood pressure is down, his cholesterol is lower, and he has lost more than 40 pounds.

Losing that weight and keeping it off can be another challenge. NSMC’s diabetes team can help patients find ways to decrease calories but still consume the foods they enjoy. And they can suggest strategies to help change old habits for new ones. Losing even a relatively small amount of weight can make a real improvement in reducing the risk of developing diabetes and other serious conditions, risks that Colarusso is happy
to see fading away. “NSMC taught me that you need to take care of your body if you want your body to take care of you."