He knew something was wrong, but his diagnosis blindsided him

When Jesus Vega headed to the emergency department in early September 2017, he expected to be given medication and sent on his way. Instead, the 51-year-old Barrington truck driver was admitted to the hospital. “It was something I didn’t expect,” Vega says. “I had no idea I’d be there for three days.” Vega went to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill., complaining of pain and swelling in his left foot that was so severe it prevented him from pushing his truck’s clutch. He was having difficulty walking and was experiencing other unusual symptoms, such as extreme thirst and frequent urination. But it wasn’t until he landed in the emergency department that he realized the cause of his symptoms: Type 2 diabetes. That diagnosis came after his blood sugar registered 506. A random blood glucose of 200 or above is consistent with diabetes. Additionally, an A1c test to measure his average blood sugar over several months revealed another dangerously high level. “His numbers were literally off the charts,” says Robin Roth, a registered nurse and diabetes educator at Good Shepherd Hospital. Vega was one of millions of Americans with undiagnosed diabetes. Like other people with Type 2 diabetes, his body has a problem turning food into fuel for energy either because it can’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin efficiently. Sugar builds up in the bloodstreams of people with diabetes and can result in nerve damage, blindness, amputations and other health issues. If diabetes is left untreated, life-threatening problems, such as heart disease and kidney disease, can occur. After being discharged from the hospital, Vega met with his primary care physician and with a podiatrist. He began taking diabetes medication and received a referral to Good Shepherd’s Diabetes Care Center in the hospital’s Health Management Center. Two weeks after his hospitalization, Vega met with Roth and Robert Carrara, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator. Together they helped him understand diabetes and how his diet and lifestyle were affecting him. Vega embraced the changes they suggested. Even his wife, Guadalupe, attended a session with him to learn more about healthier food alternatives and cooking methods. During the following two months, Vega lost more than 10 pounds. “Instead of eating eight tortillas, I eat four. I’m eating more fish and chicken and lots of berries,” Vega says. “The day I went to the emergency department, I had pizza and three cans of soda. I used to eat fast food and drink soda all the time. Not anymore.” In addition to eliminating soda from his diet, he no longer sweetens his coffee with sugar. And after learning from Roth and Carrara that starch breaks down into sugar in the body, Vega has eliminated or reduced starchy foods from his diet, including rice, potatoes and bread. For his health and for the sake of his children, ages 23, 20, 18 and 16, Vega realized he needed to make some changes in his life. He says his grandmother and an aunt, both on his mother’s side, have diabetes, but they never received the support and resources he has been given. Armed with knowledge, Vega says he felt obligated to act. “I have the information now. I know I have diabetes, and I know how the food I eat affects me,” Vega says. “So it’s up to me to do something.” When it comes to his attitude about his diabetes, Vega is a rock star from Roth’s perspective. “He has been the ideal patient,” Roth says. “He loves his wife. He loves his family. He wants to be around to see his children get married, to see grandbabies someday. He realizes diabetes is a part of his life, and he wants to take care of himself.” Are you at risk of developing diabetes? Learn by taking our Diabetes Risk Assessment.