James Seaman, Sr., had no idea how much danger he was in. And he was OK with that.
The former Marine was diagnosed with prediabetes and took metformin, a medication that helps to control blood sugar, for two years. No one had explained the risks of the condition to the Middle Village resident, now 57. “I didn’t really try to find out, either,” he said. “I just took the pills.” He was overweight, rarely exercised and ate and drank freely.
In spring 2015, Mr. Seaman, now retired, enjoyed “eating and drinking with the guys” during a Marines convention in Upstate New York, and immediately afterward, an event at the National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial in Maryland. He measured his blood sugar when he returned home. It was a life-threatening 500-plus mg/dL. His daughter insisted that he go to the Emergency Department (ED) at Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center.
The ED clinicians determined Mr. Seaman’s blood glucose levels were three times the normal range, and admitted him to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) immediately.
“I couldn’t understand why until I found out I was very close to [having] a stroke,” he said. In the ICU, Mr. Seaman met Esti Charlap, MD, endocrinologist at LIJ and North Shore University Hospital. “He wasn’t aware of how uncontrolled his diabetes was,” said Dr. Charlap. “This was an eye-opener for him.”
Mr. Seaman stayed overnight in the ICU. Nurses showed him how to use insulin pens at home and a registered dietitian provided him with an eating plan.
“My wife, Mary, ripped our cabinets apart and got all the sugar and crap out of the house,” Mr. Seaman said. Within eight months of leaving the hospital, he had lost nearly 50 pounds. His A1C levels were a healthy 6.2 percent at his most recent checkup.
“Now I’m eating what I’m supposed to eat,” incorporating more salads and eating smaller portions, Mr. Seaman said.
Mr. Seaman credits his wife for referring to the serving-size chart that Dr. Charlap provided. “She makes regular food, but instead of eating half the meatloaf, I take a slice,” he said. But, he warned, “You have to eat! Not eating doesn’t help either.”
Healthy choices are his habit now. Sometimes, Mr. Seaman enjoys something sweet or a low-calorie beer. Consistently, he monitors his blood sugar to make sure it’s in a healthy range. He stays active with regular walks with his puppy and by keeping up with his young grandchildren: “It’s good medicine all around.”
“If you’re careful with your diet and exercise and take your medications regularly, it’s possible to take control over diabetes,” said Dr. Charlap. She added that Mr. Seaman is a good example of how following directions from your doctor can improve your health.
Mr. Seaman expressed appreciation for Dr. Charlap and her staff taking the time to explain Type 2 diabetes and how he could get healthy again. Visiting her isn’t like visiting other doctors’ offices, he said. “You feel as if you’re talking with friends,” he said. It’s part of why he works so hard to stay healthy. “They say I’m like their poster boy for what you’re supposed to do.”
And Mr. Seaman’s family is the main motivation for staying healthy. “I want to be around for them as long as I can.”