By Yadira Betances
METHUEN — When Heriberto Reynoso and Sebastian Amenta were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it was a wake up call for them.
The disease runs in both of their families. Amenta's mother and grandmother have it, and Reynoso's father died from complications of the disease.
"It was so scary. I had so many questions and had no answers," Reynoso of Lawrence said of his diagnosis in 2006.
He and Amenta of Salem, N.H., are sharing their personal stories about living with and managing diabetes in two 16-minute videos entitled "Diabetes Type 2: Sound the Alarm," produced by Holy Family Hospital.
Reynoso tells his story in Spanish; Amenta in English.
The men are shown at work, at the supermarket looking at food labels, relaxing at home, getting their blood tested, eating and exercising. In addition, medical experts including a dietician, ophthalmologist, nephrologist, cardiologist and fitness trainer give their advice on managing diabetes.
According to Holy Family's last health needs assessment, hospitalization rates for diabetes in Andover, North Andover, Haverhill, Lawrence and Methuen exceed the state average by 21 percent.
Between 2000 and 2009, the number of adults in Massachusetts diagnosed with diabetes increased by an average of 4.1 percent annually.
According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, in which the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin is ignored by the cells.
When a person eats, the body breaks down the sugars and starches in the food into glucose, the body's basic fuel. Insulin carries the sugar from the blood into the cells. But when glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells due to insulin problems, it can lead to complications including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system damage and lower-limb amputation.
Dr. Alberto Sobrado, clinical advisor to Holy Family Hospital's Community Benefits program, said people are consuming more processed foods with higher amounts of sugar, animal protein and other additives.
"It's very difficult to have better nutritional choices. It's almost impossible to go to an event and get quality food," said Sobrado, president of Community Medical Professionals in North Andover.
"Diabetes is a disease that can be treated, monitored and most importantly, it can be prevented," Sobrado said.
When a person over 40 is diagnosed with diabetes it's difficult to manage because it requires changing lifestyle habits. Preventing the disease requires more work because people need to start changing their eating habits and exercising.
Amenta, 46, who works as a mechanic, was diagnosed in 2005 when his vision became blurry and he found it difficult to read road signs. After getting an eye exam, his mother, who is diabetic, tested his blood sugar and it registered over 500.
"It was then that I understood what it was like to be in her shoes and took action," Amenta said.
With the help of his wife, Christine, he eats red meat only once a week, with plenty of chicken, salads and fruit on the menu. Once a big soda drinker, he has not had any in more than a year.
"It's a constant battle, but I've seen him make better diet choices," Christine Amenta said.
In addition to eating better food and smaller portions, Amenta takes medication. While he does not have an exercise routine, he said his job keeps him constantly moving, along with home projects.
Being diagnosed with diabetes also came as a surprise for Reynoso, 57. He was on vacation in his native Dominican Republic when he began sweating, feeling feverish and was unable to eat or sleep.
"I couldn't understand at that moment what was happening, but having diabetes never crossed my mind," said Reynoso, owner of Yummy Eatery in Lawrence.
Reynoso manages his diabetes with medication, exercise and diet.
Holy Family Hospital is partnering with local health and human service organizations and physicians, providing them with the video for their own educational efforts.
Lester Schindel, President of Holy Family Hospital, is elated Amenta and Reynoso decided to talk about their experience on camera.
"I believe these stories will have a lasting impact on so many lives. Instead of feeling stuck and alone, individuals and families will find hope, courage, confidence and the knowledge they need to take charge of this disease and their lives," Schindel said.
Facts about diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, you produce no insulin at all; Type 2, you don't produce enough insulin, or your insulin is not working properly; Gestational diabetes, a type that develops only during pregnancy.
In the U.S., 25.8 million children and adults or 8.3 percent of the population have diabetes.
Some ethnic groups have a higher prevalence of diabetes, including Asians, 16 percent; Hispanics 14.2 percent; blacks 12.8 percent, compared to Caucasians at 6.5 percent.
Older people are more likely to suffer from diabetes. The percentage for people 35-44 years of age: 4.3 percent; 45-54, 6.9 percent; 55-64 14.2 percent and 75 and older, 17.1 percent.
It is the ninth leading cause of death in Massachusetts and the fourth leading cause of death for Hispanics and African Americans.