Diabetes is a serious disease that impacts people all over the world, and experts say it’s a growing problem in Mississippi.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100 million people in the United States live with the illness.
Mississippi native, Brad Lightsey, has had Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, since he was young. His father also developed diabetes when he was 13.
“They didn’t know what it was back then because it was tougher to diagnose,” he said. “They said he almost died.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs in children or young adults in which the body does not produce enough insulin and is thought to be caused through genetic susceptibility and environmental factors.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body is unable to make enough of, or properly use, insulin.
Diabetes was once referred to as the “silent killer,” and it would seem natural to view it as a burden, but Lightsey said he tries to stay positive.
“I watch what I eat a little more,” he said, “but it’s kind of a burden to monitor what you eat and get up in the middle of the night to check my sugar. I don’t think it’s too bad of a burden, though. I watched my dad go through kind of the same thing. Nowadays insulin is better than it was. You used to have boil needles, but now I just break out a pen for a quick shot or grab a snack.”
Having diabetes is sure to alter a person’s lifestyle. Lightsey takes pride in being active and makes sure his children also have healthy habits.
“I like to be outside and exercise,” he said. “I’m the kind of person who wants to be outside doing something, so I try not to let diabetes hold me back. During the summertime especially, most people and kids just sit around, and that can result in Type 2 over time . . . I’m worried about my kids, so I always make sure they’re doing something. I want to be around for my kids.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, there are over 350,000 people living with diabetes in Mississippi.
Irena McClain is the associate director of the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi in Ridgeland. She said the nonprofit works to improve the life of Mississippians with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes from infants to seniors.
“Diabetes in children has gone up almost exponentially,” she said. “Mississippi has gone from seeing 70 to almost 120 kids diagnosed with diabetes a year.”
As one of the leading states for diabetes, McClain knows what people should do prevent the disease from taking over their life.
“People have to make lifestyle changes,” she said. “I believe people need to be more active, take brisk walks, and watch what you’re eating. Save the desserts for special occasions or for the weekends.
“If you can stop a developing diabetes case, you can add 10 more years to your life. People need to be more proactive and take control of their destinies. Humans are social beings and need to do more than just being on their smartphones.”
Diabetes among the younger generation has become more common in Mississippi. Mississippi native, Destiny Lamar, is now a freshman at the University of Mississippi where she balances schoolwork and diabetes.
“I was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes at the age of 6 in February of 2007,” she said. “It was such a huge and laborious transition for me as a young child having to encounter insulin shots at least three times a day before every meal and following a strict carb diet.”
Over time, Lamar found strength in those close to her. “As time progressed, my journey began to get better and easier with the help of my family and friends,” she said. “My fear of needles became my source of acknowledging how much of a strong person I was. My fear of judgement became a way of letting everyone know I could accomplish everything I wanted even with diabetes.”
Although there are trials and tribulations Lamar faces with diabetes, she also remains positive.
“The negative aspects come sometimes when you feel abnormal amongst people who don’t have diabetes,” Lamar said. “I have major support from my family and friends and also people I may not even know. It feels great to know I’m not alone especially with people the same age as me.”
For those who are pre-diabetic, Lamar knows exactly how they should take control of their lifestyles.
“Take extremely good care of yourself,” she said. “Obtain a fun workout plan and cut back on unhealthy food and drinks.”
Lamar said she refuses to let diabetes hold her back.
“Up until this day, every moment I think, ‘I may have Type 1 diabetes, but Type 1 diabetes does not have me.'”