Today we're excited to continue our series of interviews with our 2015 Patient Voices Contest winners, who will be attending our annual DiabetesMine Innovation Summit at Stanford University in the Fall.
Meet Anthony Byers, a security executive in Oakland, CA, who was diagnosed a little over a decade ago with type 2 diabetes. He watched his own dad struggle with T2 for years, before dying from a diabetes-related heart attack in the mid-90s.
Anthony feels that the patient voice of type 2 diabetes hasn't always been adequately heard, and he's hoping to help change that by sharing his story and advocating for better resources, food choices and innovations to help all PWDs be as healthy as possible.
Here's what Anthony has to share with everyone today:
DM) First off, what’s your diabetes story?
AB) I have been diabetic for over 11 years. The timing of my diagnosis brought many challenges because I had just achieved my goal of becoming a corporate executive in 2003. I was facing new professional demands and feeling like I had arrived.
About that time, we decided to visit Egypt and go see the pyramids and sphinx, things I had always wanted to do. But I wasn't feeling well, having blurry vision and feeling very hyper. I thought it was excitement and adraneline, not realizing at the time those were symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
When I got back to the States, I went to my doctor for a physical at Kaiser in San Francisco and that's when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I had no idea how much this would change my life. Working 12-16 hour days as an executive began to take a toll. I initially ignored the high sugar counts and felt constantly sick, fatigued, and lethargic. But I was determined to earn my international expertise credentials and meet the high demands and pressures of being a high-profile executive for a Fortune 500 company.
Sounds like you have a pretty demanding job. Can you tell us more about it?
I am a security expert and President at Byers Security Consulting and currently living in Oakland, California. We provide proactive security solutions to home and business owners, such as security assessments, camera video surveillance, disaster preparedness, and floor warden training programs.
Tell us a little about the 'life hack' you submitted as part your the Patient Voices Contest application...
I have been type 2 diabetic since 2004 and have experienced many struggles and accomplishments during my 11 years. As mentioned, I was a corporate executive with a lot of responsibility and stress, getting just 2-4 hours of sleep at night when I was originally diagnosed. My life hack was facing up to the seemingly impossible challenge of exercising, sleeping better, maintaining a healthy diet, and achieving balance in my life.
Once I launched my own business and made my diabetes a priority in my life, I found that balance.
Making those necessary life changes is a struggle for so many people. How did you go about creating the “right balance"?
I really had to put my priorities in place and accept that if my diabetes was managed properly, I had a chance. My focus changed from making money and climbing the corporate ladder to spending more quality time with my wife. My priority shifted to hope of a long life.
I began eating healthy, exercising 5-6 days a week, and reminding myself each day of the probabilities of complications such as blindness, amputation, loss of sex drive, loss of consciousness, heart disease, and death that can occur from not managing my diabetes properly.
And where you checking your blood sugar regularly?
At first, no. The reality of that hit me on the first day that I took my first dose of short-term insulin after a meal, and then took a hike with my wife. At the end of the hike, my sugar level dropped to around 32 and I collapsed against the side of the car, not understanding what was happening. My wife placed me inside the car and ran to the store to get some orange juice and snacks. This truly scared my wife and me and forced me to respect the powerful impact of monitoring your sugars for highs and lows throughout the day.
What's been the most encouraging thing you've seen change in the diabetes world since your diagnosis, as far as technology and innovation?
I would list four things:
- The newer insulin pens, which make taking insulin so much easier
- The diabetes social media network of information and communication in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC)
- Growing national awareness - as an Oakland YMCA board member, I am cognizant of our diabetes prevention and child obesity programs
- Nutrition awareness, driven by the Michelle Obama initiative fighting child obesity
Regarding the DOC and
diabetes blogosphere, there's still a big need for more resources for type 2 specifically, wouldn't you say?
Absolutely! I have felt that in the online world, type 2 diabetics sometimes get lost in the shuffle. I mean, most conversations are about type 1 or diabetes prevention. I offered to talk to adults and kids in a diabetes prevention program once, and was told that because I was already type 2, my support would not be important to the program. I truly was hurt and felt left out for being type 2.
But now you're motivated to 'be part of the solution,' right?
Yes! My father, who was also type 2 diabetic and worked as a private investigator, died of a heart attack in 1997 due to diabetes. That's why I was surprised and excited when DiabetesMine selected me to also share my voice. Thank you so much!
What do you think is a top priority for helping type 2 diabetics live better?
More affordable food products for diabetics.
Actually, I'm talking about both access to produce and clean foods, and more "glycemic or diabetes-friendly" options. The diabetes-friendly options, especially the pre-packaged items, are prohibitive for many middle and low-income people or families that are large. Since diabetes crosses income groups, and has a fairly high concentration among lower income families, this makes access difficult. Similarly, the cost for most organic produce and clean foods is also high but everyone must pay this price for eating healthy. Very often organic vegetables aren’t available in areas where they might help the most people.
What else do you think is missing as far as diabetes innovation?
More venues where people with positive images share stories, insight, failures and successes with others through advertising, media, and live events. Basically, education and awareness through TV, social media, and webinars!
I was a finalist in my company's 2012 innovation competition because of a training idea. But the more important idea was one that I wanted to present to all company employees and clients in 2007, which was that we should provide yoga, or a free gym membership with healthy food choices in the workplace as part of the employment package. The company would receive a major Return on Investment (ROI) when it came to employees with less stress, fewer on-the-job accidents, and less leave and sick days taken. The employees would be thankful, happy, and motivated by the company's investment in their well-being. I feel this should be a priority in all industries, with type 2 diabetics leading the way.
This is a little off-topic, but we understand you once appeared on the popular TV game show Family Feud...
Yes, I was on the show with my brothers and nephews in October 2009. Our family went in to audition and we were chosen to be on the show, and the whole experience was thrilling. As it turned out, we ended up winning... and that was a big moment in itself, because never before in the show's history had five African-American men won the maximum number of games and a new Chyrsler 300C!
That was the first time Family Feud had a new format, where each team player engaged in a bulls-eye round that would build up the pot for the whole family to win. I held the fourth position, which meant I was on-point to answer these sudden-death questions for the family, and that made me responsible for winning two of the five games. Everyone dubbed us the Byers Boys, and we were dedicating this to members of the military and their families.
What are you looking forward to at the Innovation Summit?
I truly believe that you must always find ways to give back to your community and others who may be less fortunate. I count my blessings for the opportunity to meet with others who can teach me new things and inspire me to reach higher heights as a voice for people living with type 2.
Thanks for sharing your story, Anthony! We're certainly interested in talking more about these issues, and welcoming you to our Innovation Summit in November!