It was summer 2006 and Shi-Chang Deng needed to see his doctor. He hadn't been feeling so well. With shortness of breath and erratic heart beats, Deng headed to the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle.
To Deng's surprise, his doctor told him his heart was fine. But his blood sugar was a different story. The 71-year-old was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
"I was kind of surprised and shocked," Deng said through an interpreter. "I didn't imagine I had this. I was nervous, too, because I know diabetes is a disease. It's not the common cold."
Deng said he didn't know about a family history of the disease, because growing up in an impoverished area of Guango, China his parents didn't have access to health care. And with very little information about the disease, he didn't have positive expectations about the remainder of his retirement years.
Unaware of diabetes effect on the body, Deng made sure to follow his doctor's instructions. He enrolled in free diabetes self management classes given by the ICHS clinic, while hoping to bolster his limited knowledge of the disease.
The weekly classes are available in six-week cycles, covering the basics of diabetes, how to live with the disease, medication, complications, nutrition and exercise, according to Peer Educator, Angela Wan.
Classes are capped at 12 participants and usually include individuals who know little about the disease or its dangers, Wan said. Meetings sometimes include family members.
"We encourage the diabetic's family to come to the class if they want, with them," Wan said, "because they can give them a strong support and can have a better result come out."
After participants hear about the possible dangers of diabetes, Wan said they're appreciative of their newfound knowledge.
"They become more serious to look into diabetes and take care of themselves," Wan said.
In addition to handouts and professional guest speakers, Wan said she tailors her classes by emphasizing the value of exercise and staying active. Wan, 58, mixes Tai Chi with Chi Gong, which suits older patients with its focus on breathing techniques and slower, controlled movements.
"The more I do research, the more I find it's so important," she said. "If you do exercise regularly, it can reduce all kinds of diseases."
However, participants aren't always enthusiastic about that topic, Wan said.
"It's not like aerobics, where your heart beats fast, makes you have shallow breath," Wan said. "The most important thing is [being] consistent. If you don't do it every day, it's of no use. You are the master of your life and nobody can help you but yourself."
Once the sessions are completed, participants are encouraged to join the support group to stick to their reformed ways and share their experiences and ideas.
"It's all very small things, but a lot of people-including myself-they don't know this information, but once you give it to them, they're appreciative," Wan said.
After the classes, Deng found himself changing his eating habits. He cut out sodas, Chinese desserts, and three daily servings of white rice he enjoyed eating since his youth.
Instead, he's down to half a bowl of brown rice a day and eats more vegetables to feel full, throwing stir fried noodles into the mix, during his other meals. No longer a self-proclaimed "rice bucket" Deng eats more fresh fruits, including apples, mangos and melons and drinks lots of green tea. He has continued walking for at least 90 minutes every day at nearby parks, momentarily stepping away from his Chinese soap operas and movies to get his daily exercise.
Although he does enjoy desserts and doesn't always feel like walking, Deng said he continues to motivate himself by thinking positively and refusing to be conquered by the disease.
"After the class I realized diabetes is not very scary at all," he said. "I gained a lot of confidence so I can face and live with diabetes now."
Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org