By Isaac Itman
Back in his native Venezuela, Manuel Hernandez was working for a company which required a mandatory annual physical examination among its employees and that rule eventually helped him find out about his diabetes.
"When I was young we used to watch our diet at home and although I wouldn't say we had the healthiest diet, we would control what we ate, especially sugars," he said. "I was aware about diabetes because I had a family history of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes on my father's side."
The 35 year-old electrical engineer who now lives in Orlando, Fla., said that in 2002 he was overweight and through his annual blood test his doctor found that his blood sugar levels were high, around 150 mg/dl. Back then, his doctor put him on a diet but in spite of losing weight, his blood sugar levels were still elevated and eventually, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and began to take oral medication.
"I started to do intensive exercise on a daily basis to get ready for a marathon race in early 2003 and that helped to reduce the amount of medications I had to take," he said. "However, after slowing down on my physical activity, blood sugar levels rose up again and I could not control it only with oral diabetes medications."
At that time, he was referred to an endocrinologist and he diagnosed him with Type 1 diabetes. Hernandez began to inject insulin in 2003 and later, in July 2005, he got on an insulin pump.
"When I found out about my condition I felt very fragile, overwhelmed and that my life had changed forever" he said. "There is so much to learn. This illness demands you to be always informed, to know how your body works and to have self control."
According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC), there are 20.8 million people living in the U.S. with diabetes while there are an estimated 2.5 million Latinos/Hispanics affected by the illness.
For several years, Hernandez has worked in the website development industry and he came up with the idea of creating a social network for people with diabetes. This past march, he and his wife created an online community called tudiabetes.com (your diabetes) and two months ago he launched estudiabetes.com (it is your diabetes) to reach out to Spanish speakers affected by diabetes.
Even though Hernandez and his family are bilingual, he identified the need to provide information and tools in Spanish.
"Building up the online English community was much easier than creating the Spanish one, which was very challenging," he said. "Information in Spanish is scarce. There are not common policies or initiatives to address the problem of diabetes among Latinos as an ethnic community, in the U.S. or overseas."
He said that an online community gives him the opportunity to share his experiences, while he is simultaneously exchanging ideas with other people and learning from them as well. "When you meet another person with diabetes it is like making a new friend."
For Hernandez, this is a family project and diabetes is a family matter. His wife has not only contributed to the web site's design and ideas but, has been an extraordinary partner and companion through all of this process.
"Before he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, it was hard because we couldn't keep his blood sugar low," said Andreina Davila. "I always try to keep my self informed about diabetes and give him emotional support."
Davila said that caregivers must have patience and understand when a person with diabetes experiences mood changes and frustrations. "Sometimes they [diabetics] try to do everything possible to control their blood sugar and they still can't do it and the caregiver's support is necessary to overcome those moments."
That's why diabetes involves not only the patient but their families, too.
"Caregivers want to learn how to support their families and sometimes they don't know how," said Jessica Sofia Valle, community health educator and outreach specialist of PADRE Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Orange, Calif., which provides bilingual services to educate and bring support to diabetic patients and caregivers.
As for most people diagnosed with diabetes, they must empower themselves to know what the best choices for them are. Valle said that providing services in the patient or caregiver's mother tongue is helpful to achieve a better understanding of the different aspects of the illness.
"There could be confusion about different aspects of the illness and not learning about them in your native language makes it harder," she said.
Isaac Itman is a writer for OMHRC. Comments? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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American Diabetes Association
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Es tu diabetes (it is your diabetes) (In Spanish)
Tu diabetes (your diabetes)
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What should I know about diabetes?
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