Once on death’s doorstep, a Virginia Beach diabetes patient is spreading awareness about condition

Southsidedaily.com is your source for free local news and information in Virginia Beach

Bruce Silverman. of Virginia Beach, once weighed 400 pounds. He’s now down to 285, and his goal is to get below 220. (Photo courtesy of Silverman)
Bruce Silverman once weighed 400 pounds. He’s now down to 285, and his goal is to get below 220. (Photo courtesy of Silverman)

For Virginia Beach DJ Bruce Silverman, life has changed dramatically. He sips water late at night, instead of the couple of cocktails that used to get him through a night of work. There are no more late-night Taco Bell runs. If he’s hungry, he’ll have a yogurt at home.

A little over two years ago, Silverman was unexpectedly diagnosed with diabetes, causing him to forever alter his lifestyle in order to survive.

Before that, Silverman, who is now 43, had telltale signs of the disease — difficulty breathing, rapid weight gain, and finally, thrush in his mouth — a fungal infection that’s caused by a weak immune system and is common in diabetics.

When Silverman’s doctor saw the thrush, he ordered blood work, and Silverman’s diabetes markers were off the charts.

Literally.

His blood sugar, the concentration of glucose in the blood, was 999. A normal blood sugar reading should at most be 140.

“I was on death’s doorstep when I was diagnosed,” Silverman said. “I should have been dead.”

“They put me on five different medications, and they told me once my blood sugar was lowered, I would lose weight,” Silverman said. At that point, he weighed 400 pounds. He’s now down to 285, and his goal is to get below 220, so that he can get off of his last medication.

After his diagnosis, Silverman immediately enrolled in diabetes education classes at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital. “They told me that I was probably the one percent of people who listened in the class,” Silverman said. “A lot of people weren’t interested in counting carbs.”

But Silverman got on board with major lifestyle changes. He downloaded the My Fitness Pal food diary app in order to count his calories. Now he eats only 40 grams of carbohydrates per meal. He cut out alcoholic and sweet beverages, along with fast food. He also started walking between one and three miles a day.

“It’s a half mile to the park from my house. The first week after I got home from the hospital, it would take me an hour and a half to walk to the park and back—something that now takes me 15 minutes at the most.”

The payoff for all these changes is not only that Silverman is healthier, but he feels “a helluva lot better,” he said.

Assessing risk

Tuesday marked The American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Alert Day, which is designed to prevent the type of sudden diagnosis that Silverman experienced. It’s a day when they ask Americans to take a diabetes risk assessment that is always available on their website to call attention to a disease that is on the rise throughout the U.S.

Susan De Abate, the diabetes team coordinator at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital, said they follow an ADA disease management curriculum that includes medical nutritional therapy and support groups for diabetes patients.

There are a lot of opportunities for diagnosed patients to touch base, she added, and they never turn anyone away for financial reasons. “It can become a very expensive disease, but it can be managed appropriately if funds are limited,” she said. “I tell people they have to think of their health first, and money second.”

De Abate also focuses on targeting people with prediabetes, encouraging them to make lifestyle changes that prevent the onset of full-blown diabetes.

“I think awareness is the biggest issue,” she said. In early April, the hospital will offer a CDC-endorsed diabetes prevention program.

Farm Fresh Pharmacy will also offer, through June 17th, free diabetes assessments and glucose screenings as part of its My Diabetes Coach campaign.

An unexpected diagnosis

Anthony Wilson, a Virginia Beach diabetes educator and Manager of Operations at Medical Transport LLC, a Sentara subsidiary, also advocates for awareness. People have to know what to ask their doctors, he said. “When you go to the doctor they don’t check your hemoglobin or A1C (the average of three months’ of blood sugar readings) unless you ask.”

The A1C is more important than just the snapshot glucose reading, he added.

Anthony Wilson with the ambulance at Sentara General that was dedicated to Wilson. (Photo courtesy of Wilson)
Anthony Wilson with the ambulance  that was dedicated to Wilson. (Photo courtesy of Wilson)

Wilson co-chairs Virginia Beach’s Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes, held in November as part of the American Diabetes Association’s diabetes awareness month. There is even an ambulance with the ADA logo that’s dedicated to Wilson. He became actively involved with the ADA after his own sudden diagnosis with diabetes a few years ago.

Like Silverman, Wilson was at breaking point when he was diagnosed with diabetes in 2012. Unlike Silverman, though, Wilson had been losing weight — rapidly. He and his wife had been working out and competing against each other for who could lose the most weight.

“She was jealous,” he said. “I thought my metabolism was just ticking.”

But then Wilson started urinating frequently. He was always thirsty, especially for mango juice. One day, his wife told him he didn’t look good, and the next thing he remembers was waking up — from a diabetic coma — in the hospital.

“The doctors told my wife that if I hadn’t gone to the hospital, that I would have been dead when she got home that day,” Wilson said.

He immediately changed his lifestyle, especially his diet. “As an EMS, we typically eat fast food,” Wilson said. Now he eats baked chicken, fish, vegetables and whole wheat. His mantra is “eat in moderation.”

“French fries and ice cream are my downfall,” Wilson said. “If I eat french fries, I won’t eat the bun on my burger. Or if I have ice cream, I’ll just have one scoop.”