An injury to Annette’s eye and her father’s sudden death from a heart attack prompted her to get serious about controlling her type 2 diabetes.
Annette’s life changed dramatically one day over 30 years ago, after her car was T-boned by another vehicle that plowed through a red light.
Thankfully Annette—who was 6 months pregnant at the time—escaped without serious injuries. But the doctor treating her told Annette that she had gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes often resolves after a woman gives birth, but it increases the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia and c-section. and diabetes. It also increases risk for type 2 diabetes, which sometimes begins immediately following birth or may develop later in life. That was the case for Annette, who, like her mother and siblings, developed the condition and went on to live with type 2 diabetes.
For the years that followed, Annette focused on raising her family and her career.
Starting as a government case worker at Mercer County Board of Social Services, Annette moved up through the ranks. She eventually took an executive position overseeing support services for the 500-person agency.
Although she excelled in the workplace, Annette had trouble getting a handle on her health, indulging in high-calorie treats and not getting enough exercise.
Even so, she never missed a doctor’s appointment, fighting fear and embarrassment to face the proverbial music, even when she knew her blood sugar was too high.
The periods of elevated blood sugar left their mark. A few years ago, Annette accidentally fell and hit her eye on the edge of her desk at work. A full examination found that diabetes had damaged her retinas in both eyes. With the help of a skilled surgeon and multiple laser surgeries, her sight was preserved but she has limited vision in her left eye.
“I could have gone blind,” she said.
Shaken by her vision and her father’s sudden death from a heart attack, Annette was ready to get healthy. She found a new doctor who understood her experience as an African American woman and gave her culturally relevant health advice. She also began working with a therapist and diabetic coach Nabiliah Ismail.
She increased her water intake and substituted fruit for chocolate and other sugary treats. She ultimately embraced a plant-based diet. And to get fit, she embarked on an intensive four-day per week exercise program that includes long walks, Yoga, Tai chi, pool aquatics and strength training.
The changes have made a huge difference in her health and well-being, boosting her energy and, with the help of insulin and medication, lowering her blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
“Annette is very vibrant, and she has a wonderful outlook in life,” Ismail said. “This chapter in life may be one of her best.”
“My health journey has been a long one. A difficult one. But here’s what I know for sure today: denying diabetes doesn’t make it go away and you’re never too old or too sick to make a change for your heart health and your diabetes,” she said.
Annette’s family and friends had difficulty adjusting to her new lifestyle, but they’ve come around. When she gets together for an evening out with her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters, for example, she drinks water and orders the lowest carbohydrate meal possible, like a salad and a vegetable side.
“I’m sorry that it took me so long to get where I am, but I got here. And even the small changes I’m making after 55 have helped make the difference,” she said.
Annette says that although she’s been surrounded by diabetes her entire life and seen her loved ones suffer from it, it wasn’t easy to own it.
“Diabetes can be frightening. But what I can tell you is that educating yourself and finding help to get to the other side of that fear is a whole lot better than living in it.”