Life is like riding a bicycle.
You must keep your balance, you must keep moving.
In fact, a bicycle has been described as a remarkable invention because its passenger also serves as its engine. This week we speak to a passionate cyclist who is not only the engine of his bicycle but also oils the Rotary wheel globally to create awareness on a health condition that affects 422 million people globally; Diabetes.
Edwin A.Velarde wears many hats and has numerous hearts. He is a computer programmer who cycles to pass information on diabetes, a disease that is the major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputations globally.
But the story on diabetes need not be gloomy. Edwin is optimistic that a healthy and fulfilling life is possible, even after a diabetes diagnosis. His cycling journey has a personal tangent. He has Diabetes Type 1 but this is the least of his worries because he now has it under control. The greatest worry that gives him sleepless nights too is that millions of people worldwide have not been screened for diabetes.
What is he doing about it?
In the last one week, Edwin has cycled 1,200 Kms from London to the port city of Hamburg, Germany to join 25,000 Rotarians attending an annual convention meeting. But his mission on two wheels goes beyond cycling to fellowship with colleague Rotarians in Germany. When he began his journey from London on 19 May 2019, with the support of 20 Rotary clubs in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Germany, his intention was to encourage thousands of Rotarians and their families to take the diabetes screening test to check on their chances of getting this lifestyle disease.
He is optimistic that in the same way that he has mastered the bicycle, so will you and I take away important lessons on the prevention of diabetes whose numbers are growing at an alarming rate every day.
Before we learn more about his personal story with diabetes, here is a chance for you to take the diabetes screening test. It will only take you 60 seconds and you get your results immediately.
The wheels of change
For Edwin A.Velarde, the wheels of his life had been moving in a fast yet comfortable pace. He was at the peak of his youthful life when the doctor placed a diagnosis that changed his life forever.
“I was only 29 years old. Life had just began. How could I be diagnosed with diabetes?” Edwin remembers his bargain with the doctors. The paradox of his diabetes diagnosis is interesting. It was a year before he turned 30 and he had made a personal decision to go for a well-being checkup.
“I wasn’t sick at all. I simply made a decision to have a full body check-up as I prepared to begin my third decade of life,” says Eric.
But the doctor’s report was shocking.
“My doctor was surprised that I was leading an active lifestyle yet I had all the signs of a diabetic. In fact he compared my hormonal system to that of a 50-year old man…,” Edwin remembers his diagnosis.
Edwin, first on left, with The Epic Journey team
Edwin is the first person in his family, both maternal and paternal lineage, to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “My mum was diagnosed with gestational diabetes that later developed into Type 2 and my grandfather was a double amputee due to diabetes Type 2,” Edwin says.
The epic journey
What started as a recreational sport, has turned into an addictive public health advocacy campaign.
“A friend, Tom, gave me a bicycle a few years ago after my diagnosis and I occasionally, leisurely cycled in my neighborhood. Until I realised that I actually enjoyed taking an adventure on two-wheels,” Edwin says in an interview on the sideline of the Diabetes Rotary Action Group on Diabetes.
“Accepting the challenge to begin cycling has changed my life. It was very tough in the beginning, but I persevered and today I appreciate that a person with diabetes can lead a fit and rewarding life,” said Edwin in an interview in Hamburg, Germany.
The Rotary Action Group on Diabetes
Through diligent research and discipline, Edwin has learnt to create that delicate balance between his diet and health condition. He believes that as a Rotarian, his call is to serve by having every person get tested for diabetes. He is a Past-President of the Rotary Club of Westlake Village, California, USA and a Member of the Board of Directors for the Rotarian Action Group for Diabetes. The Rotary Action Group on Diabetes is an organization focused on inspiring Rotarians to take action and supporting clubs and districts with their diabetes-related service projects.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?
• Being very thirsty
• Urinating often
• Feeling very hungry
• Feeling very tired
• Losing weight without trying
• Sores that heal slowly
• Dry, itchy skin
• Feelings of pins and needles in your feet
• Losing feeling in your feet
• Blurry eyesight
But Edwin notes that you need not wait for these signs to take the test to find out if you are at risk of getting diabetes. According to the American Cancer Association, diabetes can be treated with insulin, oral medications, exercise and meal planning.
Edwin has also mastered these pillars of diabetes management that he has reduced his basal insulin by 80 %. What is basal insulin? This is a type of insulin designed to stabilize a person’s blood sugar during periods of fasting, such as in between meals and when asleep.
According to the World Health Organisation, the number of new diabetes cases has been steadily increasing for the past three decades. This has been attributed to an increase in the prevalence of obesity and overweight people globally. Sadly, these numbers are mostly in the low and middle income countries, Kenya included.
Closer home, according to the Kenya Diabetes Management & Information Centre, to reduce this numbers, diabetes prevention should focus on consumption of healthy diets, increased physical activity and cessation of tobacco and alcohol use.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin production and type 2 diabetes results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. While type 2 diabetes is potentially preventable, the causes and risk factors for type 1 diabetes remain unknown, and prevention strategies have not yet been successful. Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs in pregnancy and carries long-term risk of type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes causes high levels of glucose in the bloodstream that over time damage blood vessels leading to heart attacks, stroke, foot amputations, kidney failure and blindness. The commonest causes of loss of vision in patients with diabetes include cataract, glaucoma and a condition known as diabetic retinopathy which refers to the damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
How does poorly managed diabetes lead to vision loss?
Dr Michael Gichangi, an ophthalmologist at the Ministry of Health, takes a minute to explain below;
1. It occurs when the blood vessels of the eye (retina) get damaged, resulting to reduced blood circulation.
2. The damage occurs when the blood sugars remain poorly controlled.
3. As a result, abnormal blood vessels also develop in attempt to improve blood circulation.
4. These blood vessels bleed easily into the eye (retina) and to the clear fluids of the eye obscuring vision.
Dr Michael Gichangi, advices that these complications can be prevented by managing blood sugar by complying with the dietary restrictions and to remain physically active. “Screening for diabetic retinopathy among diabetic patients is important as retinopathy is painless and vision loss may be noticed only at very late stages,” Dr Gichangi noted.
Generally, how can diabetes be prevented?
The World Health Organisation recommends about 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days and a healthy diet to reduce the risk of developing diabetes Type 2.
Other lifestyle changes that can keep diabetes at bay include;
• Achieve and maintain healthy body weight;
• Be physically active – at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days. More activity is required for weight control;
• Eat a healthy diet, avoiding sugar and saturated fats intake; and
• Avoid tobacco use – smoking increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases
Edwin’s bicycle has transformed lives.
He is one ride away from another good deed!
How far are you?