When Marco Gaona arrived at the Sharp Memorial Hospital Emergency Department two years ago, his blood sugar level was more than 10 times the normal range.
Marco had diabetes and didn’t know it — and the disease was killing him. His hospital stay sent him on a journey to health that transformed his entire life and the lives of his loved ones.
‘I felt perfect’
“Growing up, I was a chubby kid,” Marco says. “My childhood was challenging, and food was a source of comfort for me. As an adult, the pattern continued. Food was constantly around because of my profession, and my weight gain increased rapidly.”
Marco spent most of his career in the food industry as a national catering manager. The late nights and constant travel led to depression and obesity, and both began to take a toll on his health.
But a year before his hospitalization, he said he “felt perfect.” According to the American Diabetes Association, some common symptoms of diabetes can be mild and go unnoticed. These include feeling very thirsty, frequent urination, irritability and blurry vision.
“My health began to deteriorate pretty quickly, and the week leading up to my hospitalization, I was very tired, irritable and wanted everything to be cold,” Marco says. “I was constantly taking cold showers and consuming cold beverages.”
According to Pamela Mertins, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion Diabetes Clinic, elevated blood sugar levels can affect circulation over time, and that can have an impact on body temperature.
The day before his hospitalization, Marco went to the beach with his wife. He spent most of the time in the ocean to keep cool, and his wife drove them home because he felt so tired. At home, Marco’s father suggested he test his blood sugar. The at-home monitor could not read his measurements, so the next day, he and his wife went to Urgent Care. Caregivers there also couldn’t get an accurate reading, so Marco’s wife drove him to Sharp Memorial.
Fighting for his life
Sharp Memorial caregivers were concerned that Marco might not survive with such extreme blood sugar levels.
Complications from untreated or poorly managed diabetes include heart disease, damage to the retina of the eyes, nerve damage, kidney disease and increased risk of infections.
Marco spent four days in the Intensive Care Unit and a total of seven days in the hospital.
“The experience was eye-opening,” he says. “I used to eat 6,000 calories a day and weighed 352 pounds. Lying in my hospital bed, I realized how lucky I was to be alive, and I made the decision to get my diabetes under control.”
Understanding and managing diabetes
Once out of the hospital, Marco changed his life. He adopted a low-carb, sugar-free diet and now exercises regularly. Two years later, he’s lost more than 100 pounds and went from a size 52 waist to a size 38. His diabetes is now under control and his A1C — a test that provides a two- to three-month blood sugar average — is 5.4, well within the normal range.
“We want people to understand that diabetes can be managed well,” says Mertins. “The first step in diabetes management is to take a personal interest in becoming educated about the disease and to learn about factors that affect blood glucose (sugar) management.”
Mertins says that with education, people become empowered to affect their health outcome directly — if individuals understand the disease, they will have a much easier time warding off complications.
Marco’s new, healthy lifestyle has affected his whole family, too. Both his wife and son are living healthier lives thanks to his example.
“The Marco that was transported to the ED died that night,” he says. “He had to die for this version of me to live.”
Learn more about diabetes care and management at Sharp.
For the news media: To talk with a Sharp expert about diabetes care and management for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.