Healthy Living
May 29, 2018 By Anne Bokma
Trying to quit smoking?

If you’ve tried, you know it’s not easy to quit. In honour of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, here are the stories of two people who kicked the habit.

More than eight years ago, Terry Biggart (pictured right) was admitted to the emergency room after feeling dizzy, confused, and weak. He could not see or walk properly and did not know what was wrong with him. He did not know his blood glucose (sugar) was dangerously high and that he was experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication of diabetes that can lead to a coma or even death. “It felt like I was dying,” he recalls. Up until that point, Terry did not know that he had type 1 diabetes. But not even this dramatic health scare was enough to make him stop smoking.

Although Terry was given insulin, he says he was not told that he would have to take it for the rest of his life. “I thought I was free. When my blood sugar went down, I stopped taking the insulin,” he says, admitting he felt lost and confused about his treatment. Over the next few months, the 50-something  father of three from Toronto began to feel ill again, and had to drop out of a university program for which he had signed up. That left him feeling depressed and anxious about his future. When he went to a walk-in clinic, his blood sugar was high, and the doctor explained why he needed to take insulin. This time, he understood the urgent need to go back on it—and stay on it for good.

Terry also understood the need to do more: “It was then that I changed my entire life around,” he says. “The first change I made was to quit smoking. I had wanted to quit for the longest time because I knew it was bad for me. I also wanted to start eating better and exercising more, and I knew smoking didn’t fit with that.”

For Irene Altman (pictured right), it was a heart attack at the age of 38. The mother of two, who  works at an Aboriginal financial institution on Birch Island in northern Ontario, weighed more than 200 pounds, was a smoker, and had been on blood pressure medication for four years. Her doctor had warned her that she was at high risk of type 2 diabetes  due to her family history (her parents had type 2 diabetes, as well as two brothers and one sister) and her lifestyle habits. She had an angioplasty—an operation to open narrowed or blocked blood vessels that supply blood to the heart—and was given prescriptions for seven medications before leaving the hospital.

Irene quit smoking (as did her husband, Delano), and went on a vegan diet—no meat and no animal products, including eggs, cheese, and dairy. The results were dramatic: Within six months she had lost 50 pounds and was able to stop taking three of her prescription medications, including her blood pressure drugs. Her next step was to create a home gym in order to get fit.

Irene no longer takes any medications, except for one Aspirin a day for heart health, and she has never felt better. “I want to live a long and healthy life,” she says. Now that she has a young grandson, Grayson, she says she is more motivated than ever to stay healthy. “He’s another reason I want to stick around as long as possible.”

Adds Dr. Peter Lin, director of Primary Care Initiatives at the Canadian Heart Research Centre in Toronto, “If you smoke and have diabetes, it’s even harder to control blood sugar levels. The combination also increases your risk for complications, such as blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, and heart problems.”

Want more information? Check out Smoking & Diabetes now.

Parts of this post were originally published in the article, “Butting Out Brings Big Benefits” by Anne Bokma, which appeared in Diabetes Dialogue.

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