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Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health cover, is dedicated to ensuring that our members monitor and manage their chronic conditions to live a healthy and proactive lifestyle.


In light of November 14 being World Diabetes Day, Affinity Health chats with Debbie Dos Santos. Debbie was diagnosed with diabetes 35 years ago and discusses how this chronic (long-lasting) health condition affects your body.


Did you know that diabetes is a leading cause of death in South Africa? New figures released by the International Diabetes Federation show that over 4 million adults aged between 20 and 79 years old in South Africa suffer from diabetes, in addition to the large proportion of the South African population that remains undiagnosed.

An Insatiable Thirst and Drastic Weight Loss

Debbie, who resides in Lonehill, Sandton, was diagnosed with diabetes in 1987 at age 24.

“The first signs that I had diabetes were an insatiable thirst and drastic weight loss (about 9kg in two weeks). At the time, I was working in the chemical pathology lab, and these symptoms should have been very obvious to me, yet diabetes never crossed my mind. It was only when I almost went into a ketoacidosis coma in the lab, did we run a glucose test, and the 25mmol/l confirmed that I was a Type 1 diabetic,” she says.


Debbie says many lifestyle changes followed, the most prominent being getting used to the five insulin injections daily and changing her diet.


“I found it particularly challenging getting the timing and dosage of the insulin injections correct and, of course, forgetting to not eat before the injection, or even worse, eating and forgetting to inject. Along with the injections were the numerous finger pricks a day, which can be very frustrating. Cutting out sugar and other refined carbohydrates was also hard. In the ’80s, diabetics didn’t have the luxury of the range of artificial sweeteners, low GI foods, and sugar-free products we have today. Other changes I had to get used to were keeping a close eye on my sugars while exercising, as exercise lowers blood sugars, and being cautious of night-time lows. Back then, no devices were available to warn you if you were going dangerously low during the night.”


Debbie quickly learnt Type 1 diabetes is a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year disease.


“It never lets up. You have to be conscious of it all the time. There are no days, or nights, off. “The good news is that, with the advancement of diabetic research and development, huge strides have been made to help diabetics like myself, especially Type 1 diabetic, to lead a fairly “normal” life,” she adds.


Currently, Debbie is on an insulin pump, and a continuous glucose monitoring sensor (CGM) has been inserted into her abdomen. These two devices talk to each other. The CGM reads her glucose every five minutes and sends the result to her pump. The pump then plots these readings on a graph and will automatically deliver a correction bolus of insulin, if necessary.


If the glucose is too low, the pump suspends insulin delivery until glucose readings return to normal.


“This technology is life-changing for diabetics when you think back to the insulin syringes and metal finger lancets of the past!” says Debbie. “The pump has many built-in alarms that beep to warm you if your sugars are too low, too high, cartridge low, sensor change, and so on.”


Debbie admits she has had many health scares since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.


“Almost everything affects your diabetes, including your emotional state. In 1995 I lost my husband, Clive, in a motor vehicle accident. Within two days of his death, I went into ketoacidosis and was in ICU for three days. The shock and trauma of his death put my diabetes into disarray. I have been in ICU twice with food poisoning.”


“For many years, I neglected my diabetes and am now paying its price with diabetic retinopathy (bleeding on the retina). So, my advice to a newly diagnosed diabetic would be never to neglect your diabetic control. Your diabetes is going to be with you all your life. Look after your control, and you will live a normal life. Also, exercise is a diabetic’s friend. Exercise is not only good for your whole body but your diabetes as well! Five years ago, I bought an e-bike and had never looked back. My e-bike keeps me fit and helps me not develop dangerous hypos (low blood sugar) while on the road.”

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-term health condition that affects how your body converts food into energy. It occurs when your body either does not produce enough insulin or does not use it as effectively as it should.


Most of the food you eat is converted into sugar (glucose) by your body and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar rises, your pancreas signals to release insulin. Insulin functions as a key, allowing blood sugar to enter cells and be used as energy.


Diabetes occurs when your body does not produce enough insulin or use it as effectively as it should. Too much blood sugar remains in your bloodstream when insufficient insulin or cells stop responding to insulin. Over time, this can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

While diabetes does not yet have a cure, losing weight, eating healthy foods, and staying active can all help. You can also help by doing the following:

  • Take the medication exactly as directed.
  • Receive diabetes self-management education and assistance.
  • Make and keep medical appointments.

Diabetes Types

Diabetes is classified into type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant).


Diabetes Type 1

An autoimmune reaction is thought to cause type 1 diabetes (the body attacks itself by mistake). This reaction prevents your body from producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes affects about 5-10% of all people with diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes symptoms frequently appear quickly. It is most commonly diagnosed in children, teenagers, and young adults. If you have type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin every day.


Diabetes Type 2

With type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin well and cannot maintain normal blood sugar levels.


Type 2 diabetes affects 90-95% of people with diabetes. It takes many years to develop and is usually diagnosed in adults. Because you may not notice any symptoms, you must have your blood sugar tested if you are at risk. Type 2 diabetes can be avoided or delayed by implementing healthy lifestyle changes recommended by your doctor or healthcare provider.


Gestational Diabetes

Pregnant women who have never had diabetes can develop gestational diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby may be more vulnerable to health problems.


Gestational diabetes usually disappears after the baby is born. However, it raises your chances of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Your child is more likely to be overweight as a child or adolescent and to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

How Can Affinity Health Help You?

If diabetes is not treated, it may result in the manifestation of life-threatening secondary illnesses. Diabetes can be managed with the consumption of monitored medication and other treatments to reduce the occurrence of secondary conditions.


The Diabetes Programme, the Affinity Health specialist network and the Member’s GP will assist Members in managing their diabetes condition. Through support, Affinity Health provides members with suitable treatment and tools to improve their overall health. The programme gives Members access to various facilities to monitor and manage their condition.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading provider of health insurance, offering you a range of options at affordable rates including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, your budget, and your lifestyle. Our range of healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service at all times. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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