Christopher Braithwaite, 35, was a paramedic for seven years when he walked into the emergency room at Baptist Hospital of Miami as a patient himself, suspecting he had high blood sugar. But even seasoned hospital personnel were startled when his labs came back and his glucose reading was at 705.
“The doctor said to me: ‘You are a walking dead man,’ ” recalls Mr. Braithwaite (pictured above before his diagnosis and weight-loss), who had been feeling weak, constantly thirsty and urinating frequently. “She said my blood sugar was probably in the 1,000s earlier in the day. She said that anyone who comes in here with a blood sugar of 700 is usually unconscious.”
(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Christopher Braithwaite about his life-changing diabetes diagnosis, along with Pascual De Santis, M.D., his endocrinologist, and dietitian Natacha Borrajo. Video by Dylan Kyle.)
That was April 22 of this year, when Mr. Braithwaite’s already busy and traumatic life was upended further with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, and having to potentially face years of insulin injections and other medications to control his blood sugar level. Normal glucose readings for healthy individuals should fall within 70-100 mg/dL when fasting, and less than 180 after meals. A blood sugar reading near or at 1,000 usually puts a person into a diabetic coma or unconsciousness.
Most people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes don’t “present so dramatically” as Mr. Braithwaite did, says Pascual De Santis, M.D. , an endocrinologist with Baptist Health Primary Care , who is helping guide the paramedic through his post-diagnosis adjustments that include significant lifestyle changes, such as improved nutrition, weight loss and regular exercise.
“It is very likely that he was worsening over time,” says Dr. De Santis. “The body has a capacity to adapt. He possibly had been feeling symptoms progressively. But it reached a point at which he really needed to go to the hospital. The majority of people are not going to present with blood sugar that high and be diagnosed with diabetes in such a dramatic way.”
Mr. Braithwaite, a father of three boys and a four-month-old girl, weighed 289 pounds when he entered the hospital. He had been going through a traumatic time after the death of his brother.
“I started to notice that I was drinking a lot of water and peeing a lot,” explains Mr. Braithwaite. “Lethargy was also a symptom as well. In April, my brother passed away after a car accident — at the time that the symptoms were kicking in. I thought my symptoms were due to nerves.”
Transforming Himself Via Lifestyle Changes
Mr. Braithwaite is not taking his diagnosis lightly. He is transforming himself, inspired in large part by the birth of his daughter. He has lost more than 50 pounds and is down to a weight of 232. Being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. So is fat distribution on the body, inactivity, poor dieting and a family history.
Mr. Braithwaite has also been guided by Natacha Borrajo, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care . She praised his commitment and determination in adopting healthier habits, such as a focus on fruits and vegetables and staying physically active.
“Every time I saw him, he was losing weight and taking it upon himself to get educated outside of what I had taught him,” recalls Ms. Borrajo. “He’s focusing on “a plant-based diet and making sure he’s getting a wide variety of vegetables. And research shows that the more plant-based foods you eat, the healthier you will be in the long run.”
Mr. Braithwaite said he felt he had little choice but to make significant changes, for the sake of both his health and his family.
‘I Didn’t Want My Daughter to See Me Deteriorate’
“I said to myself that this is the only option now: ‘You can remain this way, or try and change your lifestyle.’ So I did,” says Mr. Braithwaite. “I will continue to exercise and have a plant-based diet. This has opened up my eyes to the bigger picture. I have a daughter who was born during this whole situation. I didn’t want my daughter to see me deteriorate.”
A healthy diet for a diabetic is much the same for anyone who wants to stay healthy — an eating plan rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Weight management and regular exercise are also very important.
“Christopher clearly had the will and the power to really implement these significant lifestyle changes,” Dr. De Santis said. “Unfortunately, many people don’t have this. He was able to optimize lifestyle changes and realize how this is so powerful.”
Mr. Braithwaite hopes to inspire others to educate themselves and adopt healthier living habits to avoid his dramatic predicament.
“I’ve learned that in most cases, most people with type 2 diabetes tend to continue the same lifestyle, and they feel that the medication will basically maintain the blood sugar. They’ll eat what they want and take the medication,” he says. “Just educate yourself. You’re going to get whatever you put into it.”