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Staff writer

Stew Bichet, 41, of Hillsboro was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008, but he suspects the problem existed long before that.

His job as proprietor of ASAP AutoGlass sends him out of town frequently, which meant many fast-food meals.

“At one point I weighed about 230 pounds,” Bichet said.

He decided to lose weight and began exercising, but he didn’t change his diet. As he progressed, he began to feel worse, and his energy was often sapped. He had what he thought were panic attacks; in retrospect, he thinks they were related to his blood sugar.

“Literally I was about to die when my wife convinced me to go to the doctor,” he said.

The doctor told him he had diabetes.

“When I got diagnosed with this, I thought, ‘Wow. This is the end of my normal life,’” Bichet said.

His diabetes had been uncontrolled long enough that it had damaged his nerves, and he spent months recovering in pain.

“The bed and the couch were basically my life for a while,” he said.

Bichet described himself as someone who tries to face challenges, but he admitted that he felt sorry for himself for a lot of that time.

“I don’t want to go blind,” he said. “I don’t want my kidneys to stop working.”

But with time and his family’s support, he got his diabetes under control with diet and exercise. He also takes one small dose of insulin every day, but he is trying to reach a point where he doesn’t need to.

Nutrition awareness is the biggest component of managing diabetes for Bichet. Carbohydrates, not just sugar, cause the blood-sugar peaks and valleys that diabetics have to avoid, he said.

Bichet said he and his family have become more aware of what they’re putting into their bodies. They read food labels while shopping and pay attention to serving sizes.

“Knowledge is the best weapon,” he said.

Bichet said his wife, Lana, and daughters, Viktoria and Erika, have been invaluable supporters. They were all willing to make changes to their own habits when he was diagnosed. If they hadn’t, it would have been difficult for him to make the changes he needed to, he said.

Although he still has days when he doesn’t feel quite right, Bichet said his quality of life is much better than it was before his diagnosis.

“It’s like night and day, I feel so much better,” he said.

The changes he has made have benefited him beyond his health, as well. His family has more homemade meals together than they used to, which gives them more time to talk about the things happening in their lives. It has also led to his family being healthier.

“It’s been kind of a blessing in disguise for my family,” Bichet said.

He is self-employed, doesn’t have health insurance, and isn’t a “going-to-the-doctor” kind of guy, he said, but after his experience, he would urge anyone who doesn’t feel right to see a doctor.

“If you feel something ain’t right with you, get it checked out,” he said. “Just like your car, if you don’t take care of your body, it’s going to fall apart.”

Know warning signs of diabetes

Anyone, regardless of family history or lifestyle, can develop diabetes or its precursor, prediabetes, but there are warning signs and risk factors people can watch for, diabetes educator Jeanne Rziha of Hillsboro said.

Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight.
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Waist measurement of greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.
  • Being over 40 years old.
  • Having a family history of diabetes.
  • Having Mexican, African, Asian, or American Indian heritage.

Other warning signs that someone may have diabetes or prediabetes include:

  • Acanthosis nigricans or “dirty neck syndrome.” This is a brown to black discoloration of the neck, underarm, groin, forehead, or other area.
  • Unexplained chronic tiredness.

Last modified Nov. 9, 2010

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