Rhonda Hall knew she needed to lose weight but didn’t. For her to make the lifestyle changes she needed, it took a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, the expense of medications and supplies, and a talk with God.
Through diet and exercise, Rhonda lost 100 pounds. She reduced her medication, stopped needing insulin shots and no longer has sleep apnea (breathing that temporarily stops during sleep).
“My family experience was that if you got diabetes or heart disease, there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said. “The reality was that I was able to change it. With healthy lifestyle changes, you can live a long, healthy life, even if you have a family history.”
Rhonda, an elementary school teacher from Springfield, Mass., realized something was wrong with her health in 2004. She’d always struggled with her weight, but despite being on a diet plan, she’d suddenly gained 60 lbs. when she was 33. At her annual gynecological exam, her doctor urged her to redouble her efforts to lose weight.
The rapid weight gain wasn’t the only cause for concern. Rhonda’s ankles swelled after taking a trip to visit family. Her doctor said it was common after travel but ran some tests.
When Rhonda got a call first thing the next morning, she knew it meant there was a problem. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. If untreated, it can lead to complications including obesity and heart disease. Medication was prescribed.
Nine months later, Rhonda still didn’t feel well. She needed frequent restroom breaks during the school day. This was a problem because another teacher had to cover for her each time.
“I’d been sucking down apple juice but couldn’t quench my thirst,” she said.
Rhonda returned to the doctor. This time tests showed that in addition to a yeast infection and thrush, she had Type 2 diabetes.
“Suddenly, I had to take four shots a day,” Rhonda said.
Over the next seven years, Rhonda’s health had ups and downs. She didn’t always take her medication as directed because she forgot or couldn’t afford it. Her inconsistency made her problem worse, requiring higher dosages in some cases.
In February 2012, spurred by weight-loss competitions at her work and church, Rhonda got more serious about losing weight. Until then, her weight had continued to rise.
“It was like a collective echo saying, ‘Let’s get healthy,’” she said.
Working out each morning before work and sticking to a strict diet plan, Rhonda lost nearly 50 pounds in four months. A car accident that prevented her from exercising for a year could have been another setback, but Rhonda stuck to her diet plan and kept losing weight.
By October 2012, she’d lost 100 pounds; in early 2013 her doctor said she no longer needed insulin shots and could reduce her other medications. Her weight loss also helped end her sleep apnea.
Rhonda, now 44, celebrates her accomplishment but is clear about her responsibilities.
“I’m not out of the woods,” she said. “I still need to be monitored by my doctor and be consistent about the lifestyle changes I’ve made.”
Looking back, Rhonda says she was in denial about her risk factors and what they meant for her health. Although she was volunteering with the American Heart Association in her community to raise awareness about heart health, she hadn’t accepted she was also at risk.
“Of all the risk factors, smoking was the only one I didn’t have,” she said. “The American Heart Association really opened my eyes.”
Today, Rhonda continues to volunteer with the AHA and share her story with other women. She encourages them to take responsibility for their health and make sure they get the medical care they need.
“You have to be an advocate for yourself, and be ready to push for more answers if you know something isn’t normal for you.”